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World

Kyrgyzstan holds ex-official on new corruption charges

  • With the verdict, Matraimov was released from house arrest, avoided a jail sentence and saw a freeze on property assets lifted.
Published February 20, 2021
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BISHKEK: A court in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan said Saturday it had detained a former senior official on new charges after protesters complained he got off lightly in a major corrupton scandal.

Former customs official Rayimbek Matraimov, who is also under US sanctions, was ordered on February 11 to pay a fine equivalent to $3,000 after a court found him guilty of overseeing major corruption.

With the verdict, Matraimov was released from house arrest, avoided a jail sentence and saw a freeze on property assets lifted.

But Matraimov was rearrested Thursday on fresh money laundering charges after several hundred people protested a week ago in the capital Bishkek against what they viewed as a forgiving sentence.

In announcing his detention, a court spokesman told AFP Saturday that Matraimov would be held in a temporary facility until April 18 on money laundering charges that carry a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment.

The US embassy welcomed the new legal moves against Matraimov in a tweet Friday and said Washington was "committed to working with Kyrgyz law enforcement to identify and, if proven, return stolen Kyrgyz assets to the Kyrgyz people".

The court in Bishkek had justified his release by saying Matraimov had already paid back around $24 million to the state in damages lost through the corruption schemes.

New president Sadyr Japarov has publicly distanced himself from Matraimov, who is widely believed to have helped finance the presidential campaigns of two former presidents and is portrayed by media as a kingmaker.

Japarov will visit key ally Russia next week in his first diplomatic trip since political chaos toppled a Kyrgyz administration for the third time in less than three decades of independence last year.

Kyrgyzstan accused Washington of "interference" after US ambassador Donald Lu called on civil society to push for Matraimov's conviction in December.

Matraimov and his wife were placed under sanctions by the US Treasury last year in connection with allegations of customs fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars raised in a media investigation.

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