File photo: Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (R) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) prior to their meeting at the Ala-Archa state residence in Bishkek on September 1, 2018. Photo: AFP / Vyacheslav Oseledko

A court in Kyrgyzstan unfroze the accounts of several media outlets on Friday that had been frozen after they published allegations of a nearly $1 billion embezzlement scheme implicating senior officials, one of the outlets said.

The US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said a court in the capital Bishkek had accepted a motion to unfreeze its bank accounts as well as those of the local news site Kloop.

An influential family at the heart of a corruption scandal had earlier filed a libel suit against them, and the media outlets earlier lastweek received notification of court rulings blocking their accounts.

RFE/RL and the other outlets in late November published claims 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.

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service Azattyk carried out the investigation with Kloop, and a summary was published by independent news website – all of which were named in the defamation case.

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 reports, in an expression of outrage at persistent corruption in the poor Central Asian nation.

RFE/RL chief Jamie Fly had called the freezing of their bank accounts 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 had called the court decision freezing the accounts “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.


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