A Kyrgyz-linked businessman shot dead in Turkey this month had secretly provided reporters with evidence of corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s customs service and massive outflows of cash from the country, according to a new joint investigation by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop.
Aierken Saimaiti, a 37-year-old ethnic Uyghur from China who was gunned down in Istanbul on November 10, also accused a former top Kyrgyz customs official and a shadowy Uyghur business network of reaping millions of dollars in illicit profit in schemes involving the mislabeling of goods and tax avoidance.
Saimaiti, who fled Kyrgyzstan in 2017 over what he said were fears for his safety, provided hundreds of documents to reporters demonstrating how he moved hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan, saying a large portion of these transactions represented money laundering.
Much of this money flowed into the network led by Khabibula Abdukadyr, a Chinese-born Uyghur with a Kazakh passport who, until the November 21 joint investigation, does not appear to have ever appeared in a publicly available photograph.
Representatives of the Abdukadyr family, the customs service, and Kyrgyz law enforcement did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Saimaiti himself told reporters that he alone had transferred more than $700 million from Kyrgyzstan between 2011 and 2016. Reporters were unable to verify that sum.
They also never obtained documentation for the entire $700 million that Saimaiti moved abroad. But he provided cash declaration forms, wire-transfer orders, bank statements, contracts, and other documents attesting to about half of this amount.
These records included such details as senders, recipients, dates, account numbers, and countries of destination.
Saimaiti also alleged that Raimbek Matraimov, a powerful former Kyrgyz customs official, was instrumental in providing cover for the Abdukadyr network’' cargo empire in the region.
Matraimov could not be reached for comment. Multiple members and representatives of his family did not respond to requests for comment, though an assistant of Raimbek's brother, Iskender Matraimov, asked for more time.
The investigation by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, OCCRP, and Kloop also found that Matraimov’s wife is a joint investor in a Dubai property development with a company controlled by Abdukadyr.
Saimaiti told reporters prior to his death that in order to protect himself, he had applied for Turkish citizenship and expected to receive it on November 14. He said he planned to turn over more financial documents to reporters after that.
He was shot dead at a cafe in Istanbul. Turkish police have made several arrests in the case, though details of their motives and potential contacts remain murky.
Turkish police have made no official statements on the case.