Kyrgyzstan: Mafia Boss Cancels Home Leave
Early this year, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan named fighting organized crime a principal ambition of her tenure. But it’s proved a tough battle rooting out gangsters, especially since so many of them seem tangled up in the country’s notoriously corrupt political system. So it is lucky for her that a man whom Barack Obama calls one of the world’s most odious drug kingpins has shelved plans to return to her country.
Kamchy Kolbayev has seen more column inches than he’d probably like this year. After he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store, Bishkek requested his extradition to face charges of organizing a transnational criminal group. Obama added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him. Interpol says the 37-year-old Kyrgyz citizen is sought for “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives” and “organized crime/transnational crime.”
But at home, Kyrgyz authorities’ uncertainty about what to do with Kolbayev suggests he enjoys favor in some powerful places. After all, it’s not uncommon for government officials and criminals in Kyrgyzstan to work together when it suits them. At the very least, his case illustrates the dysfunction of Kyrgyzstan’s justice system.
Officials don’t agree on the details, but the background story goes something like this: Kolbayev had been sentenced to either 19 or 25 years in prison for murder and arms possession, but then released early. His early release – in 2005, according to a presidential spokesman, or in 2009, according to the Interior Ministry – had been “illegal” and this year he again became a wanted man. All year prosecutors and courts have argued over whether he was paroled or acquitted, found not guilty or should return to jail.
Otunbayeva’s campaign against organized crime, begun in February, is thought to have provoked a series of prison riots the next month. Prisoners were – some officials said at the time – demanding that the state back off their man Kolbayev.
Kolbayev’s alleged criminal networks may have been useful to politicians in the past. Former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has been accused by some of protecting Kolbayev. Are politicians doing the same today? He was detained shortly last year after the ethnic bloodletting in the country’s south, suspected of stoking the violence, and then quickly released.
Anyways, the UAE quietly ignored Bishkek’s extradition request. Authorities there released Kolbayev on September 6 for lack of evidence in the jewelry heist.
Since then, his lawyers in Kyrgyzstan had been talking about his imminent return, which was scheduled for October 8. At the last minute, with his relatives waiting for him at the airport, he changed his mind, AKIpress reported.
Kolbayev’s feet may have been cooled by a late October 7 report that Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court would reconsider his early release and possibly force him to serve out the rest of his term.
The mere idea he felt bold enough to return prompts more questions than answers:
Whose pocket gangster is he? Or does he switch allegiances as convenient?
Why tip him off the day before his return, when police could have bagged him, that coming home was such a bad idea?
Why did the UAE let him go?
And, finally, when planning his visit home, what was he thinking? In Russian, a protection racket is called a krysha, or “roof.” Did Kolbayev think his wouldn’t leak?
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.