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Former Kyrgyz Customs Officer: Ex-Boss Threatened RFE/RL Journalist

A composite photo of Kyrgyz ex-customs officer Emilbek Kimsanov, left, and his former boss, Raimbek Matraimov.

A former Kyrgyz customs officer has alleged that his ex-boss urged him to bring an RFE/RL Kyrgyz service journalist back to Kyrgyzstan "dead or alive."

Emilbek Kimsanov made the allegation in an undated video that was posted on Facebook on April 10 by his wife, Maria Zavorotnyaya.

In the video, Kimsanov says that former Kyrgyz State Customs Agency Deputy Chairman Raimbek Matraimov sent him contact information in Prague for RFE/RL journalist Ali Toktakunov along with the command to bring him in "dead or alive."

Kimsanov showed screenshots on his telephone with the information about Toktakunov.

Matraimov was not available to comment on the video. His brother, Kyrgyz lawmaker Iskender Matraimov, dismissed the video in comments to RFE/RL.

"Kimsanov will answer not only before God, but also before the law," Iskender Matraimov said. "Let law enforcement check his statements. I would ask the people not to believe the claims of just anyone."

Joint probe

Toktakunov was the lead reporter in a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service, known locally as Radio Azattyk; the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP); and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop.

The investigation, Plunder and Patronage in the Heart of Central Asia, which implicated Raimbek Matraimov, chronicled how a 37-year-old Uighur businessman from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, self-confessed money launderer Aierken Saimaiti, moved hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Toktakunov has received credible death threats in connection with the investigation and has been named by Matraimov and his family as a defendant in a libel lawsuit. According to the OCCRP, as many as 12 people who reported on or criticized the Matraimov family over the last 10 months have been harassed.

Kimsanov was detained in St. Petersburg, Russia, in February and extradited to Kyrgyzstan. He faces charges connected to the 2018 beating of a son of former Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiev.

On March 31, a Kyrgyz court ordered Kimsanov transferred from house arrest to pretrial detention.

Wife's statement

On Wednesday, Zavorotnyaya released a video statement in which she appealed to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to protect her husband, claiming that the case against him had been trumped up by "an influential man of Kyrgyzstan." She did not mention the man's name.

However, Kimsanov's brother, Emirbek Kimsanov, earlier appealed to Jeenbekov to protect his brother from Matraimov and his family, who he said had been persecuting Emilbek Kimsanov for his refusal to participate in Matraimov's alleged illegal activity.

Jeenbekov's office has not responded to the appeals.

Emilbek Kimsanov's lawyer, Nazgul Suyunbaeva, said Wednesday that "unknown people" had threatened her client before his transfer to custody by saying, "We will put you behind bars where they are already waiting for you."

Suyunbaeva asked prison officials to look into the alleged threats against Kimsanov.