When investigators came looking for him, Kyrgyz lawmaker Emil Zhamgyrchiyev headed for a window.
The MP sensed that he was in trouble on January 9, when a subcommittee in the Jogorku Kenesh, as Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is known, granted its approval for the legislature to vote on whether his immunity from prosecution should be lifted.
Zhamgyrchiyev first fled from law enforcement officers along the corridors of the parliament building in full view of journalists present. Then he hid in the second floor office of a fellow deputy. Security cameras caught what he did next, which was to clamber out of a window and shimmy down to freedom. The MP was last sighted jumping over the picket fences of some nearby coffee shops. As of January 12, he was still at large.
Zhamgyrchiyev's problems commenced in December, when Prosecutor General Kurmankul Zulushev formally requested parliament to revoke his immunity, citing suspicions that he had illegally crossed the border into Uzbekistan.
The investigators, who say they have been looking into this case for almost a year, allege that in December 2022, Zhamgyrchiyev smuggled himself into Uzbekistan to seek the support of a well-known crime world authority there: Salim Abduvaliyev, better known to the wider public as Salimbay, or Salim the rich.
A U.S. diplomatic cable published by the website WikiLeaks in 2011 described Abduvaliyev as a "Tashkent mafia chieftain" and described his close connections with the government of the time at some length.
Toward the end of the late President Islam Karimov’s time in office, Abduvaliyev, along with many other crime bosses, sought to keep a low profile. But things changed following Karimov’s death in 2016, when Shavkat Mirziyoyev became president.
In 2017, Abduvaliyev, 73, a former wrestler, was appointed vice president of Uzbekistan’s National Olympic Committee and head of the Uzbekistan Wrestling Association. Local press deferentially referred to him as “an entrepreneur” and a “philanthropist”. He has received multiple awards over the years, including the title of “Honored Sports Trainer,” bestowed on him by Mirziyoyev in 2021.
Whatever influence Abduvaliyev may once have enjoyed, however, appears to have evaporated.
As it happens, Abduvaliyev is now having his own difficulties with the law. On December 5, he was detained and taken into custody on suspicion of illegal possession of firearms, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Law enforcement authorities said they had been working to apprehend Abduvaliyev and other suspects “for months and years.”
But this all happened many months after Zhamgyrchiyev arrived with his petition.
The head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiyev, delivered more allegedly incriminating information on Zhamgyrchiyev at a hearing in the Jogorku Kenesh on January 10, one day after the MP disappeared.
Brandishing a 10-page sheaf of A4 sheets, Tashiyev said they contained messages written by Zhamgyrchiyev to Abduvaliyev in which he “bashed” the national leadership of Kyrgyzstan and pleaded with the crime boss to help “take measures against it.”
“All the presidents of Kyrgyzstan over the years of independence — [Askar] Akayev, [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev, [Roza] Otunbayeva, [Almazbek] Atambayev, [Sooronbai] Jeenbekov and the current [President Sadyr] Japarov — they have all appreciated your highness and received your blessing before gaining power,” Tashiyev read from one letter. “I appeal to you for help bringing Tashiyev to heel.”
Having absorbed this information, 68 out of the 81 MPs present in the chamber voted to revoke Zhamgyrchiyev’s immunity. Two opposed the motion and the remainder abstained.
Tashiyev told deputies that the intention was not to arrest Zhamgyrchiyev, but merely to question him and then leave the matter to the courts to resolve.
This drama is playing out against the backdrop of an all-out battle between Kyrgyzstan’s authorities and organized criminal groups — two camps that have traditionally enjoyed what many consider to be a symbiotic relationship.
The most dramatic point of this confrontation so far was the October killing of Kamchybek Kolbayev, the country’s most prominent gangland figure, at the hands of security services special forces. One day after that armed standoff, Tashiyev delivered an ultimatum.
“I am addressing criminal elements: do not break the law. From now on, in our country there will be no thieves-in-law, no leaders of organized crime groups, no criminal organizations,” Tashiyev said in a speech. “We remember those years when one crime boss would replace another. One left, and then others would take their place… This will no longer happen.”
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.