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New investigation: Transfer of millions from Kyrgyzstan and two murders

Kloop, Azattyk and OCCRP journalist published a second part of the investigation into transfer of money from Kyrgyzstan.

In the first part, the media outlets reported that a Chinese businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was killed in Istanbul, told reporters before his death how he transferred millions of dollars from Kyrgyzstan, and who of the Kyrgyz officials helped him in this. Smuggling schemes lead to Raiymbek Matraimov’s clan.

Couriers and collectors

Journalists report about relationship between Aierken Saimaiti and two recently killed men, ethnic Uyghurs — a merchant from Madina market Khufur Abdurakheman and a taxi driver Khusan Kerimov.

According to the investigation, an underground courier network has been operating in Kyrgyzstan for many years, through which millions of dollars in cash have been taken out of the country. Khusan Karimov was one of the couriers. Recall, he was found dead in the trunk of a car near Manas airport on October 24, 2019. It is reported that he was supposed to deliver $ 1.6 million in cash from Kyrgyzstan to Istanbul (Turkey) on that day.

«Usually everything went like clockwork: he called a pre-arranged phone number, met a person at a terminal, took money from him and got on a plane to Istanbul. Before take-off, he took a selfie and sent it to his curator, thereby reporting that he and his valuable cargo were safe,» the journalists write.

His curator was Aierken Saimaiti, who was killed on November 10 in Istanbul. He organized a network of couriers. Under his leadership, dozens of guys and young men were involved in transfer of money from the Kyrgyz Republic. They regularly took Bishkek — Istanbul flight and carried cash in bags. A huge amount of money was in each bag — from several hundred thousand to several million dollars.

When Karimov did not get in touch, Saimaiti decided to hand over documents to journalists that confirm transportation of $ 77 million from the Kyrgyz Republic. «The real amount is probably much larger. Saimaiti claimed that over the years alone, his network had transported more than a billion dollars,» the journalists say.

The journalists contacted several other couriers. They told that they had transported the money. «None of our interlocutors has ever mentioned that one of the officials tried to verify this,» the journalists say.

Khufur Abdurakheman was a «collector, who regularly collected money for its transportation abroad. He had worked as a cook in a cafe on Madina market for a long time and earned the trust of other merchants, in particular for observing religious rites. Local merchants kept his savings with him, which were later sent through a courier abroad.

Recall, the body of 37-year-old Khufur Abdurakheman was found in Kochkor district of Naryn region on October 19, 2019. He went missing two weeks before.

Whose money is this?

The money that Kerimov transported was mostly the money of merchants from the markets of Kyrgyzstan. «Couriers mostly serve private sellers and wholesalers from numerous bazaars in Kyrgyzstan, who buy goods in Turkey and China for cash. This widespread practice is contrary to the laws of Kyrgyzstan. Depriving the budget of revenues from customs duties, it causes direct harm to taxpayers and also does not allow to establish the legality of the origin of the funds,» the investigation notes.

«This money is hidden, firstly — from customs fees, secondly — from taxes, and thirdly — from the financial intelligence service,» journalists quote the former head of the Manas Airport’s Internal Security Service Samat Isabekov as saying.

In addition, Saimaiti used a network of couriers to take out the money of a Chinese businessman and the head of an influential clan Khabibula Abdukadyr from Kyrgyzstan.

Saimaiti showed reporters 48 cash declarations. At least 31 of them were filled out by couriers who worked for Saimaiti during his cooperation with the Abdukadyrs. According to these declarations, couriers have brought to Istanbul more than $ 27 million for two months — in September and October 2016.

In 22 cases, the couriers indicated in the declarations that the money they carried belonged to Palvan company — it is registered in Turkey and belongs to the Abdukadyr’s family.

Data from the Turkish business registry confirms the existence of Palvan Insaat Turizm Lojistik Sanayi Ticaret LTD. According to the same register, at different times this company was owned by Khabibula, the head of the Abdukadyr’s family and his two sons. Khabibula’s wife is Maria Palvan.

From the investigation of Kloop, Azattyk and OCCRP

When the couriers brought Abdukadyr’s money to Istanbul, Saimaiti met them at the airport, took part of the cash to a bank and deposited it on his own accounts, as well as on the accounts of his wife or Abdukadyr’s companies. Couriers’ customs declarations were used to prove to bank employees that the money was legal.

«Most couriers declared the money they transported as their own. A search in Kyrgyz companies’ registries showed that none of them owned companies that would explain such huge sums of money they had. This is an additional confirmation of Saimaiti’s words that couriers actually carried other people’s money,» the journalists say.

Couriers received surprisingly little for their dangerous work — sometimes only 5,000 soms ($ 70) per trip, although someone could receive up to $ 200 (the average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan is $ 240).

Saimaiti, according to investigators, took a fee of $ 25 from merchants per each $ 10,000 sent through couriers. Thus, $ 2,500 profit was received from each sent million.

Corruption at the Customs

At the expense of this money, Saimaiti not only bought a ticket to couriers to Istanbul and back, but also paid for the «services» of customs officers.

Customs officers’ aiding is the main reason why this whole scheme worked.

Not all couriers transported cash openly, filling out customs declarations. Sometimes couriers carried money onto an airplane in their hand luggage — bribed customs officers pretended not to notice this.

«Everyone turned a blind eye to this. We saw with our own eyes at the Manas airport how money was regularly transported. The video we made could be a proof,» the journalists quote Samat Isabekov, the former head of the Internal Security Service of Manas airport, as saying.

According to his observations, during his work, couriers smuggled $ 30-40 million into China alone through Manas airport every week. Cash, he said, was transported by regular flights to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjian region of China.

«It’s hard to hide money at the airport. When a baggage goes through an x-ray, they see the content and know that the money is there,» he explains. «People heading for Urumqi are carefully checked. That is why large businessmen contacted the Customs in advance and said: I will send so many millions on such a day by such a flight,» reporters quote their interlocutor.

This bribe continued to be divided further in chain order.

«I heard that they [officials] took $ 2,000 for each million. I know for sure that the Customs took $ 1,000 from this amount,» Isabekov said. The remaining amount, according to him, was distributed among other departments and state bodies.