US welcomes Kyrgyzstan detaining 'dangerous criminal leader'

Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) (AFP) –


The United States on Thursday welcomed Kyrgyzstan's detention of an alleged crime boss who Washington says is a major force in drug trafficking, after the Central Asian country's new government pledged to fight organised crime.

Kyrgyzstan has launched a drive against organised crime after Sadyr Japarov took over as acting president last week following unrest, in a move analysts say is partly aimed at deflecting allegations that the new leadership had links to criminal groups.

Kyrgyzstan's state committee for national security said Thursday that Kamchibek Kolbayev had been detained as part of an investigation into organised crime.

Kolbayev's group is "part of the broader Brothers' Circle transnational criminal organisation composed of leaders and members of several Eurasian criminal groups", according to the US State Department.

The State Department has offered a $1 million reward for information that can help disrupt Kolbayev's network.

In a statement Thursday, the US embassy said it welcomed Kolbayev's detention and added that it hoped Kyrgyz authorities would "prosecute and continue to detain this dangerous criminal leader in the interest of public safety".

Kyrgyzstan's state committee said its investigation was "aimed at obtaining details of the criminal activities of (Kolbayev) and related persons from the criminal space".

A video released by the committee showed security officers armed with automatic weapons running into a high-end gym and detaining Kolbayev, who straightened the collar on his coat before he was handcuffed.

The scenes were accompanied by dramatic music.

- No longer 'dictate terms' -

Kolbayev has long been regarded as operating with impunity in the ex-Soviet country.

He was most recently released from jail in 2014 after spending less than two years there on an extortion conviction that was reduced from five-and-a-half years.

Japarov has angrily denied suggestions in media reports that he has ties to organised crime, including to Kolbayev, who hails from the same region as the acting leader.

Japarov was appointed prime minister last week and also inherited presidential powers after Sooronbay Jeenbekov became the third Kyrgyz leader since independence in 1991 to resign over unrest.

At the beginning of the month Japarov was himself serving jail time on a hostage-taking charge dating back to an incident that took place during a 2013 rally for the nationalisation of a gold mine.

But he was released by protesters and rapidly shot to power after rallies over a disputed parliamentary election morphed into clashes between police and demonstrators.

In a national address last week Japarov pledged that criminal groups would no longer "dictate terms" and pressure businesses into paying protection money.

He also promised to bring to justice a former customs official who along with Kolbayev is viewed as one of Kyrgyzstan's most important power brokers.

The former official, Rayimbek Matraimov, was released under house arrest on Tuesday, almost immediately after being detained.

The national security committee said Matraimov had begun paying damages of more than $20 million to the state.

New parliamentary elections are set to take place in the country on December 20, electoral authorities said, although parliament could yet decide to reverse that decision.