A self-confessed money launderer who wired nearly $1 billion out of Kyrgyz banks before his murder in Turkey last month also ran a network of informal cash couriers who carried tens of millions of dollars from the Central Asian nation by hand, a new investigation has found.
The joint investigation published on December 3 by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, OCCRP, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop is based on documents and interviews with Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese-born Uyghur businessman who was shot dead in Istanbul on November 10.
Prior to his contract-style killing, Saimaiti provided reporters with bank records and internal ledgers detailing how he transferred hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan in what he claimed was a massive money-laundering operation involving Kyrgyz customs officials.
A November 21 investigation by the three news organizations -- based on Saimaiti's documents and allegations -- has triggered grassroots uproar, criminal probes, and a pledge by Kyrgyz authorities to investigate the evidence presented in the report.
The new report reveals how Saimaiti, 37, operated a group of working-class men who regularly flew from Kyrgyzstan to Turkey transporting millions of dollars in carry-on bags, declaring the cash as their own.
It also reveals that one of Saimaiti’s cash couriers, 39-year-old Khusan Kerimov, was found dead in the back of his car in the Manas Airport parking lot in October.
Saimaiti told reporters that he had expected Kerimov to arrive in Istanbul with a bundle of more than $1.6 million in cash.
'Tip Of The Iceberg'
In the months before his death, Saimaiti, who fled Kyrgyzstan in 2017 on what he called trumped-up criminal charges, provided reporters with 48 customs forms showing declarations totaling $49 million over the course of several months in 2016, 2018, and 2019.
Saimaiti said was only the tip of the iceberg.
In a meeting with reporters prior to his death, Saimaiti displayed another stack of cash declarations by his couriers and claimed his network had carried more than $1 billion abroad over several years.
An official responsible for internal investigations at Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Airport, outside Bishkek, told reporters that customs officials sometimes accept bribes to look the other way while undeclared cash is carried out of the country by plane.
Documents provided by Saimaiti show that the listed recipient for a significant amount of the declared cash was a Turkish company controlled by the business network of Khabibula Abdukadyr, a secretive Chinese-born Uyghur tycoon with a Kazakh passport.
Saimaiti alleged that he laundered money for the Abdukadyr cargo empire in Central Asia and that Kyrgyz customs officials took bribes in exchange for helping Abdukadyr’s companies extract illicit profits through fraudulent customs schemes.
Neither Abdukadyr nor his business associates have responded to requests for comment.
Saimaiti singled out Raimbek Matraimov, a powerful former Kyrgyz deputy customs chief, as a key beneficiary of this alleged graft.
The Kyrgyz customs service has denied accusations of corruption in its ranks. Matraimov was questioned by the Kyrgyz National Security Committee following the November 21 investigation published by RFE/RL, OCCRP, and Kloop. He has publicly denied any wrongdoing.
Matraimov has not publicly commented on the finding in the November 21 investigation that his wife and a company controlled by Abdukadyr are joint investors in a Dubai real-estate development.