BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan froze the accounts of three media outlets this week after they published allegations of an almost $1 billion embezzlement scheme implicating senior officials, one of...
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan froze the accounts of three media outlets this week after they published allegations of an almost $1 billion (900 million euros) embezzlement scheme implicating senior officials, one of the outlets said.
The US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said a court ruling was delivered to their offices after several people sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages over the initial report.
RFE/RL and the other outlets had published claims in late November that a well-connected Chinese-born businessman had spirited away up to $1 billion with the help of senior figures in the Kyrgyz customs service.
The source for the story, another Chinese-born businessman, was shot dead in Turkey in early November. Hundreds of people marched in protest in Bishkek following the initial report, in an expression of outrage at persistent corruption in the poor Central Asian nation.
RFE/RL chief Jamie Fly said on Thursday that the freeze was an "outrageous assault" on the independence of its Kyrgyz service and demanded that the funds be released.
He said the ruling went against the explicit promise of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to respect media freedom. Jeenbekov called the court decision "a blow not just to the image of the Kyrgyz President, who publicly extols the principles of freedom of speech everywhere, but to our democratic country", according to a statement on the presidency's website.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service Azattyk carried out the investigation with local website Kloop, and a summary was carried by independent news website 24.kg -- all of whom were named in a defamation case. --