Hundreds protest over Kyrgyz corruption report

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BISHKEK (Reuters) - Hundreds of people protested in front of the Kyrgyz government headquarters on Monday demanding that the authorities follow up on a media investigation of alleged money laundering to the tune of $700 million involving former senior officials.

Kyrgyzstan, a close ally of Moscow and site of a Russian military airbase, is the most politically volatile nation in Central Asia and protests which turned into violent riots toppled two Kyrgyz presidents in 2005 and 2010.

Published this month, the investigative report by several local and international media outlets alleges that a well-connected group has for years been smuggling Chinese goods into Kyrgyzstan and then channeling its profits out of the country.

Kyrgyz private news website Kloop, United States-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and a collective of European news outlets called the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), who jointly produced the report, said their main source had been a Chinese-born businessman who fell out with his former partners in the former Soviet republic.

The businessman was shot dead in Istanbul this month.

On Monday, about 500 people gathered on a square outside the main government building in Bishkek, demanding an investigation into the matter and the resignation of senior officials in charge of combating financial crime.

Some carried posters saying “Return our money” and “Kyrgyzstan is not impoverished, Kyrgyzstan is being robbed”.

The Kyrgyz government has said it was investigating the allegations made in the report.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko,; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by Angus MacSwan