Matraimov being questioned by reporters as he is led off a plane onto the runway at Bishkek international airport. (Photo: Social media)

Matraimov being questioned by reporters as he is led off a plane onto the runway at Bishkek international airport. (Photo: Social media)

In a dramatic turn of events on March 26, corrupt and once-powerful former customs official Rayimbek Matraimov was loaded onto a plane in Azerbaijan and flown to Kyrgyzstan to be arrested.

Images circulated in local media showed Matraimov being hauled off a plane in handcuffs by masked agents with the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB.

The rapid and unexpected deportation comes just days after government sources linked Matraimov, who they said was living in Azerbaijan, with a plot to assassinate Kyrgyzstan's national leadership. On the day that allegation was aired, the GKNB announced it had arrested five alleged members of a transnational organized crime group charged with executing the plot.

The group arrested in Bishkek was comprised of nationals of Azerbaijan, the GKNB said.

The security services said in a separate statement that it had asked Azerbaijan’s authorities to detain and extradite Matraimov. The request was fulfilled swiftly.

Kyrgyz authorities characterized the plot purportedly hatched by Matraimov as an attempt to counteract ongoing efforts by the government to root out organized crime. 

There was some confusion about whether anybody else was detained with Matraimov. News website Kaktus reported that the security forces had also arrested his three brothers: a former lawmaker, Iskender, one-time energy executive Tilek, and a former head of the internal investigations department in the financial police, Islam.

Iskender Matraimov’s son, however, posted on social media to say that his father had not been arrested and that he was returning to Kyrgyzstan on the first flight from Dubai after hearing about the unfolding situation. 

Matraimov held his position as deputy chairman of the state customs service from 2015 to 2017. In 2019, a coalition of news outlets, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kloop and Azattyk released a series of investigations alleging that Matraimov had while in that position siphoned at least $700 million out of the country as part of elaborate smuggling operations. 

The government in power at the time barely reacted to those allegations. Matraimov’s critics maintained that he deployed his ill-gotten riches to wield extensive influence over the country’s political scene.

But Matraimov has experienced a remarkable slide in his fortunes since the start of this year.  

When President Sadyr Japarov was sprung from prison, where he was serving a sentence of hostage-taking charges, amid the turmoil of street protests in October 2020, he delivered an emotion-laden speech to a crowd of supporters in which he vowed that he would throw Matraimov into prison.

“Rayim-Million will be arrested. I have not yet fully got into running state affairs. But as soon as I do, he will be arrested,” Japarov said, deploying Matraimov’s widely used nickname.

Initially, Matraimov was dealt with gingerly, but that changed dramatically in January, when Tashiyev announced that the government was poised to confiscate the former customs official’s considerable assets and properties. Matraimov was at the same time declared a wanted man, sought on charges that included “forcibly depriving a person’s freedom.” It was understood at that time that he had left the country.

This weekend’s allegations about an assassination plot upped the ante. The GKNB has not offered any evidence for the veracity of its claims about plans for a spree of assassination. Matraimov’s camp, meanwhile, has also offered no comment. 

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İran Prezidentinin həlak olduğu hadisə Azərbaycan- İran münasibətlərinə təsir edə bilərmi? – Nəsimi Məmmədli Çətin sualda

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