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Exclusive: Records Reveal Money Trail In Kyrgyz Corruption Scandal  

Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese-born businessman previously based in Kyrgyzstan, was murdered on November 10 in Istanbul.
Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese-born businessman previously based in Kyrgyzstan, was murdered on November 10 in Istanbul.

Hundreds of financial records leaked by a self-confessed money launderer at the center of a corruption scandal in Kyrgyzstan have been published, showing how hundreds of millions of dollars linked to a secretive cargo empire were funneled out of the country over the course of several years.

The documents, made public on June 29 as part of a journalistic investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and the Kyrgyz news outlet Kloop, were given to reporters last year by Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese-born businessman previously based in Kyrgyzstan, prior to his November 10 murder in Istanbul.

Following Saimaiti's death, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the OCCRP, and Kloop published an investigation based on these records, interviews with Saimaiti, and their own independent reporting.

The investigation implicated influential former Kyrgyz customs official Raimbek Matraimov in widespread corruption linked to the money Saimaiti moved out of the country.

Matraimov and his family deny any links to Saimaiti or corruption and filed a libel suit over the investigation.

The trove of Saimaiti’s records released on June 29 include wire-transfer orders, personal financial ledgers, electronic spreadsheets, and what he described as sham contracts used as cover to move hundreds of millions of dollars abroad to Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, and the United States, among other countries.

The bulk of the money shown in these records was transferred on behalf of Khabibula Abdukadyr, a secretive Uyghur businessman with a Kazakh passport who has built a murky cargo-and-real-estate empire in Central Asia, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Abdukadyr was virtually unknown to the broader public until the investigation was published in November.

The release of Saimaiti’s records coincides with two new investigations published by the outlets, together with Bellingcat, that are based on documents the murdered businessman provided to reporters.

One expose reveals the identity of previously unknown donors to the Matraimov family’s charity, which Saimaiti claimed was the recipient of bribe money he paid as part of a corrupt scheme in Kyrgyzstan’s customs service. The Matraimovs vehemently reject that charge.

The report reveals how these newly revealed donors had demonstrable links to Saimaiti, as evident from documents he gave reporters prior to his murder.

The second investigation focuses on more than $1 million that Saimaiti claimed to have wired to Britain toward the purchase of a luxury apartment for Matraimov, whose family is known for leading a lavish lifestyle seemingly at odds with his long career as a public servant.

E-mails sent to the Abdukadyr family went unanswered. An adviser to Iskender Matraimov, Raimbek’s brother and a member of parliament, asked for additional time to make a full response but did not follow up before publication.

Kyrgyz lawmakers on June 18 approved the findings of a parliamentary commission that concluded Kyrgyzstan was not involved in the nearly $1 billion investigators said Saimaiti transferred out of the Central Asian nation.

Critics of the commission say it failed to sufficiently investigate the evidence of corruption presented in the expose published by RFE/RL, OCCRP, and Kloop in November following Saimaiti’s murder.

Earlier in June, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) claimed a reporter with RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service had received money from Saimaiti but presented no evidence beyond hearsay testimony from two individuals, including a former ambassador currently in pretrial detention on abuse-of-office charges.

RFE/RL strongly rejected the allegations.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said at the time that they "appear to be the latest attempt in a long-standing campaign of retaliation against journalists by corrupt individuals seeking to protect their wealth and power."

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