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US Offers Reward as Kyrgyzstan Set to Release Mob Boss

The US government is apparently not happy that Kyrgyzstan is due to release an alleged criminal kingpin next month after he has served only a fraction of his sentence.

In a country where crime bosses and politicians enjoy cozy relations, Kamchi Kolbayev – whom President Obama identified as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker” in June 2011 – has become synonymous with sleaze in the judiciary.

Kolbayev was jailed last year for extortion. But at some point his 5 1/2-year sentence was cut to three years “without explanation,” RFE/RL points out. Now, because he served part of his time in a pre-trial detention facility, where one day is the equivalent of two against a sentence, he’s almost free.

The US State Department seems to think Kyrgyzstan’s underfunded, mafia-ridden prisons, where criminals often call the shots, has done little to stop Kolbayev’s activities. In a May 29 statement, State offered a $1 million reward for “information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of the criminal network of Kamchybek Kolbayev.”

Kolbayev’s criminal network is based in Central Asia, and is involved in drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, and other crimes. The Kolbayev criminal network is part of the broader Brothers’ Circle transnational criminal organization composed of leaders and members of several Eurasian criminal groups.

There is little doubt the Kyrgyz criminal justice system could shut up someone as powerful as Kolbayev, who had earlier been accused of orchestrating a 6,000-strong, prisoner hunger strike. As EurasiaNet.org reported last June:

Kolbayev’s trial is far from his first brush with the law. Back in 2006, he was in prison serving a 25-year sentence, but somehow managed to gain his freedom not too long after former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev came to power. A year later, state prosecutors decided to close all criminal cases against him. […] These days, Kolbayev seems to be getting another easy ride at his trial in Bishkek’s Pervomaisky district court, asserts one noted criminologist. “Witness after witness keeps changing their testimony,” Kairat Osmonaliev, a former advisor at the Interior Ministry, told EurasiaNet.org. “It is a classic Al Capone-type scenario. He is holding up very well.”

Kolbayev is not the only Kyrgyz mobster who seems to view prison like a yoga retreat. In April 2013, the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that because Aziz Batukayev – found guilty in 2006 of racketeering and murder – was allegedly terminally ill, he should be released. Surveillance video from Bishkek airport showed Batukayev walking to a private plane, which whisked him to Chechnya. A parliamentary committee subsequently determined that Batukayev’s health problems had been fabricated.

(Correction: An earlier version of this blog mistakenly said the Treasury Department, rather than the State Department, is offering the reward.)

US Offers Reward as Kyrgyzstan Set to Release Mob Boss

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