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Exclusive: Slain Money Launderer Feared Retribution From Ex-Kyrgyz Official Before Murder, Leaked Police Records Show

Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti was shot dead in Istanbul one year ago.
Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti was shot dead in Istanbul one year ago.

A former Kyrgyz-based money launderer said before his murder in Istanbul last year that a senior Kyrgyz ex-official and a secretive tycoon would be responsible if anything happened to him, according to a new RFE/RL investigation.

The report by RFE/RL and partners was published on November 10, the one-year anniversary of the murder of Aierken Saimaiti, an Uyghur businessman who funneled hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Prior to his killing, Saimaiti gave reporters a trove of records showing how he laundered money for the benefit of Khabibula Abdukadyr, a Chinese-born Uyghur cargo magnate with a Kazakh passport and a sprawling business empire across Central Asia and beyond.

'His Murder Is Necessary': Man Who Exposed Kyrgyz Smuggling Scheme Was Hunted By Contract Killers

The subsequent investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and Kloop, published less than two weeks after Saimaiti's killing, revealed former Kyrgyz deputy customs chief Raimbek Matraimov as a central figure in a smuggling scheme involving Abudkadyr's firms.

Now, records leaked from the Turkish investigation into Saimaiti’s killing and obtained by the media partners show that Saimaiti told his wife shortly before the crime that Matraimov and Abdukadyr would be responsible should something happen to him.

"He told me if something happens to him, I should tell all these events to the police, and that he would be killed by these people," Saimaiti’s widow, Wufuli Bumailiyamu, testified to Turkish police the day after his murder.

Raimbek Matraimov in 2019
Raimbek Matraimov in 2019

Matraimov, a wealthy and influential political player, was placed under house arrest on corruption charges under Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership last month following the collapse of the government amid disputed elections.

Istanbul police did not respond to a request for comment on whether they sought to question Matraimov or Abdukadyr.

In an e-mail to the investigative group, Matraimov denied he had any connection to Saimaiti or his killing. Matraimov also claimed that while he has been in Istanbul since Saimaiti’s murder, he was never questioned by Turkish police.

Abdukadyr did not respond to a request for comment.

New Revelations In Istanbul Assassination That Rattled Kyrgyzstan
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Turkish police have kept the murder investigation under tight wraps. So far four men, including the accused shooter, have been arrested and charged in connection with Saimaiti’s killing.

The leaked records obtained by RFE/RL and partners include testimony from the alleged gunman, Abdullah Enver, who told police he was born in Kyrgyzstan.

During his interrogation, Enver told police that, while living with other Central Asians at a militant Islamist camp in Syria, a senior figure there promised him and an accomplice $100,000 in total to kill Saimaiti because he was an "infidel."

A Turkish police official put forward this purported motive shortly after Saimaiti's killing. But Enver told police he did not know Saimaiti and carried out the crime for the money, the leaked record of his interrogation shows.

In June, a Kyrgyz parliamentary commission tasked with examining the circumstances of Saimaiti’s murder finalized a report that did not indicate a possible motive for the crime, or who might have ordered it.

Critics have accused the commission of failing to tackle the evidence of corruption revealed in the investigation by RFE/RL, OCCRP, and Kloop based on evidence provided by Saimaiti, as well as on independent reporting by the news organizations.

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