A vast smuggling ring is exposed in Kyrgyzstan, to popular outrage
THE VICTIM was a Chinese citizen. He was shot in a gangland-style killing in Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey. But the smuggling racket on which he had just blown the whistle was centred on Kyrgyzstan, a poor Central Asian country of 6m which has been a transit point between China and Europe for centuries.
Aierken Saimaiti said his part in the racket had been to launder the proceeds, overseeing the removal from Kyrgyzstan of at least $700m in dirty money between 2011 and 2016. Kyrgyz officials have since admitted that Saimaiti and his associates funnelled nearly $1bn to banks in a dozen countries. (Kyrgyzstan’s GDP last year was $8bn.) Before his assassination last month he told journalists from Kloop, a Kyrgyz website, Radio Free Europe, an American-funded news outlet, and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a charity, that he had done so with the connivance of Kyrgyz officials. Ordinary Kyrgyz are asking how such a huge scam could have occurred under two presidents who styled themselves as corruption-busters.
The money Saimaiti laundered seems to have been made by dodging import tariffs. The gang either failed to declare goods brought to Kyrgyzstan from China or disguised them as items of little value, while bribing customs officials to look the other way. Some of the smuggled merchandise was...