Kyrgyzstan’s most notorious gangland figure was killed on October 4 during a security services operation in an incident that is certain to spark lively speculation about possible political undertones, casting a shadow of intrigue over the nation's complex political landscape.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said in a statement that it was seeking Kamchybek Kolbayev’s arrest over his suspected involvement in expropriating property from businesspeople. Another line of investigation concerned Kolbayev’s alleged links to the murder in July 2022 of a rival underworld personality, Chingiz Jumagulov — better known by his underworld nickname Doo (Giant).
According to the GKNB press release, Kolbayev was at the Blonder Pub in Bishkek when agents moved in to detain him. When Kolbayev responded by opening fire, law enforcement returned fire, which resulted in his death, the GKNB said. The operation began at around 3 p.m.
Several media outlets reported on the mustering of troops, the deployment of armored vehicles and the sound of gunfire while the confrontation was still occurring.
Prosecutor General Kurmankul Zulushev and Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliyev were also at the scene.
Kolbayev, popularly known as Kolya Kyrgyz, is by wide repute said to have become one of the most prominent figures of Kyrgyzstan’s underworld scene following his induction to the international “thieves-in-law” criminal fraternity in Moscow in 2008.
Presumed contacts between Kyrgyzstan’s criminal and political elites are an oft-discussed issue, although much of the claims are strongly speculative.
Whatever influence Kolbayev enjoyed did not spare him the attention of law enforcement. His seeming immunity from severe consequences, however, only fueled rumors that he enjoyed the protection of high-placed political figures, and vice versa.
In November 2022, the GKNB detained Kolbayev and ten associates, all of them carrying weapons, in an area near the border with China. At that time, he was questioned and released. In October 2020, he was arrested on suspicion of conspiring in the creation of a criminal organization, but he was released on bail six months later.
Kolbayev’s notoriety was international.
In 2011, then U.S.-President Barack Obama officially labeled Kolbayev a significant foreign narcotics trafficker in accordance with the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. In 2014, Kolbayev was designated a primary target of the State Department’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program with a reward potential of up to $5 million.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.