A pyramid scheme in Uzbekistan that reeled many high-profile celebrities into its net is now costing officials their job.
Since investigations began in mid-June, the fraud allegedly engineered by well-known businessman Ahmad Tursunbayev has caused enough ripples to knock dry political programing off the airwaves in favor of at least three television programs devoted to the case to date.
Among the officials to have lost their job are Behzod Mirsoatov, prosecutor for the Chinasky district of Tashkent out of which Tursunbayev operated. On July 25, the district head of police also got the chop and is now being questioned as a witness in the case. There are also unconfirmed reports that the head of the district is next for the metaphorical firing squad.
The removal of relatively important local officials signals a rare concession to restive public sentiment in Uzbekistan, although the story is actually a little less straightforward than that.
Tursunbayev’s suspected scam consisted simply of promising 100 percent yearly returns on investments made either in cash, gold or other assets, mainly cars. The bulk of his clients — estimated at between 40,000 and 80,000 people — appear to have been naive Uzbeks unused to market speculation.
Uzbekistan’s transition to a market-based economy has been negligible over the past 25 years and untrained investors are ripe subjects for fraudulent get-rich quick scams.
Against all odds, however, despite the unfolding scandal, Tursunbayev continues to enjoy some support from the public. Victims of his scheme have drowned prosecutors with letters — not to demand his punishment, but instead to ask that he be released, so that he might return their money and jewelry.
Uzbekistan is all a-hubbub these days over the case of a prominent businessman facing charges of fraud for his creation of what amounts to a crude pyramid scheme.
State television station Channel One on July 1 aired a second program in quick succession about the arrest of Ahmad Tursunbayev, who went popularly by the name Ahmadbai Chinazsky.
Tursunbayev’s arrest, in the middle of June, came as a major surprise to many.
According to Uzbek TV, 38-year old Tursunbayev and a group of around 30 collaborators duped people into handing over their savings with promises they would provide a minimum 100 percent return within the year.
The scheme appears to have gulled no small number of gullible investors. According to Uzbek state television, around 40,000 people willingly parted with cars, money and gold, apparently against written assurances that their profits would be paid. Curiously though, no guarantee was given that any money would be returned in the event of Tursunbayev’s death, presumably as some crude form of protection. Rumors on the streets of Tashkent put the number of defrauded investors even higher than that offered by Uzbek television, at around 80,000.
The scheme does not in truth appear to have been especially sophisticated. Tursunbayev’s team compiled accounting information in children’s school copybooks. Television footage showed stacks of hundreds of copybooks and huge bags spilling over with Uzbek sum and US dollars. Police reportedly seized a whopping 13.1 billion sum (around $2.1 million at the unofficial rate) and $12 million in hard cash.
In an interview with Channel One, a woman called Halima said that she sold 20 large sheep and handed Tursunbayev around $2,600 dollars in the hope of doubling it within a year. Halima said she is now penniless.
Kazakhstan has approved chemical castration as a form of punishment for people jailed on charges of pedophilia.
The law entered into force with approval from President Nursultan Nazarbayev last week.
Under the law, chemical castration will be administered through a course of injections that will act on the body over a number of months to reduce sexual urges.
“The drugs being administered by injection to the subject of castration are anti-androgenic,” psychiatrist Ahtolkyn Meyrmanova told 365info.kz, referring to a type of medication intended to reduce male hormones in the organism. “The injections will be carried out once every three months under observation from a specialist.”
The legislation to introduce chemical castration in Kazakhstan was proposed by the office of the General Prosecutor. The deputy to the General Prosecutor, Nurmahanbet Isayev, has estimated that up to 100 rapists are released from jail ever years.
KazTAG news agency cited official data stating that more than 3,000 people have been sentenced on sex crimes over the past five years. Of the more than 200 whose offenses involving underage children, 63 had prior convictions for similar crimes.
The drastic measures against pedophiles have broad support in society, although some rights activists have spoken out against the punishment.
A quick tip to anybody planning a bank heist in Uzbekistan — make sure your getaway can carry heavy loads.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service has reported on a robbery that took place at a Mikrokreditbank branch ub the western Khorezm region in early April that netted its organizers 16 million Uzbek sum. Though that sounds like a lot, it is a mere $2,560 at the black market rate.
The thieves got into the bank around midnight by disconnecting the alarm system and then cracked a safe containing 45 sacks of cash. Officials told RFE/RL that the robbers loaded the sacks onto a Damas minibus.
Two people have reportedly been arrested for the heist. One of those charged was none other than a local police officer.
“The head of the criminal gang used to guard this bank in his capacity as an officer with the patrol service. The policeman enlisted his unemployed 34-year old brother to take part in the robbery,” a law enforcement official told RFE/RL.
One businessman queried by RFE/RL expressed dismay at the small quantity of money that appeared to be in the bank, which he said confirmed the grave lack of liquidity gripping Uzbekistan. State workers regularly complain of not being able to receive their salaries because of the lack of hard cash in the banks. Others are unable to collect remittances sent from relatives abroad.
While the authorities are remaining mum about the events of the heist, one local journalist in the Khorezm region confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that he too had heard about the event.
He said that the thieves made away with 14 sacks of cash, however, and not 45, as claimed by RFE/RL.
A rally held this week in front of the mayor’s office in Almaty is a fresh reminder of how property continues to be a generator of public discontent in Kazakhstan.
Complaints this time revolved around a case of realty fraud perpetrated by a woman called Firuza Ordabayeva, who posed as an Almaty city hall employee offering citizens cheap apartments as part of a purported government program.
Ordabayeva was sentenced to six and a half years in jail last week for the scheme, which prosecutors say saw her swindling unsuspecting hopeful home-buyers of $5 million. The 20 or so families that mustered outside the Mayor Baurzhan Baybek’s offices on April 12 are now fearful they will be evicted and left on the streets.
News website Ratel.kz explained in its account of Ordabayeva’s scheme that people were defrauded in a number of ways. The schemes involved committing buyers to paying down deposits against the promise of preferential terms further down the line, only for monthly repayment bills to be steeply hiked without warning.
And since people typically moved into the apartments after transferring their deposits, they tried to continue keeping up payments to avoid eviction.
“We gave money and immediately we were given keys from the apartment, did some repairs [in the apartment] and lived there,” one home-buyer, Dilnar Insenova, told Ratel.kz.
The victims of the fraud are now appealing to the Almaty mayor to intervene and make sure they are not evicted.
A well-known Kyrgyzstani gang leader has reportedly been murdered in Minsk, Belarus, where members of the country’s former ruling clan – the Bakiyevs – are hiding from Kyrgyzstan’s prosecutors.
The bloody body of a man who looks like Almanbet Anapiyaev was found in the trunk of a Mercedes-Benz in the Belarusian capital on February 18, according to Belarusian media. The man was carrying a Russian passport bearing Anapiyaev’s likeness but a different name.
Media in Bishkek have accused Anapiyaev of everything from killing a former presidential chief of staff to instigating ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Anapiyaev was believed to be a close associate of Kamchi Kolbayev. Both are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s blacklist for alleged involvement in the lucrative Eurasian heroin trade.
In May 2014, the State Department offered a $1 million reward for “information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of the criminal network of Kamchybek Kolbayev.” Shortly after, Kolbayev was freed from a Kyrgyz jail, having served 18 months of a five-and-a-half-year sentence on kidnapping charges.
Kyrgyzstan’s local government councils are infested with gangsters, according to the Interior Ministry.
Speaking at a meeting of parliament’s Ata-Meken faction on August 20, Interior Minister Abdulla Suranchiev named over 20 figures in local governments across Kyrgyzstan that he alleges have ties to organized crime.
Not all of the councilors Suranchiev named have criminal records. Details on the accused, later relayed by 24.kg, were limited to names, dates of birth and presumed association with alleged criminal leaders such as Kamchybek Kolbayev, Maksat Abakirov and Almas Bokushev.
Cynics believe Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev engineered the expose as a PR stunt ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. Ata-Meken has suffered serious brand damage since scraping into the legislature in 2010. Political rivals have accused three of its members, including Tekebayev, of looting during the 2010 revolution. Another scandal struck the party in 2012 when it emerged that one of its candidates for a municipal seat in Jalal-Abad Province was a seasoned criminal with the record to prove it.
Rakhat Aliyev, the former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been arrested in Vienna seven years after fleeing Kazakhstan following a spectacular fall-out with his father-in-law.
The arrest of Aliyev, who has been convictedin absentia in Kazakhstan on charges ranging from kidnapping and embezzlement to plotting a coup d’etat against Nazarbayev, was reported by Austria’s APA news agency on June 6.
The report did not specify on what charges Aliyev – the former husband of Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva – had been detained, but noted that Austria opened a murder investigation against him in July 2011.
That came a month after Kazakhstan announced that Aliyev was facing a murder rap in absentia after evidence emerged “irrefutably proving” he had killed two bankers who disappeared in 2007.
Prosecutors said after finding the bodies of Zholdas Timraliyev and Aybar Khasenov four years after their disappearance that the men had been tortured, suffocated, put in barrels and hidden in a gorge outside Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital.
Aliyev – who held a string of high-powered posts in Nazarbayev’s administration and controlled a vast business empire – was serving as ambassador to Austria when the scandal over the bankers’ disappearance broke. He never returned to Kazakhstan.
He was later convicted in absentia of kidnapping the bankers, among other charges, and sentenced to 40 years in jail.
A couple of seditious tweets and fliers usually do not merit a lot of analysis in conspiracy-prone Central Asia. But calls for independence in Uzbekistan's impoverished and "autonomous" west are likely getting ample attention from the country’s secret police following Russia’s recent annexation of another “autonomous” region in a former Soviet republic, Crimea.
Tashkent tightly controls Karakalpakistan and doesn't countenance any talk of independence, even though the region still has, on paper, “autonomous” status—a Soviet-era administrative device, essentially meaningless today in Central Asia, used to govern regions with large minority populations.
On May 5, Twitter user @amankar67 posted an announcement reminding followers that an obscure pro-independence movement that appeared this year, Alga Karakalpakstan ("Forward Karakalpakstan"), would hold a "peaceful rally" against the regime of President Islam Karimov. "Forward Karakalpakstan people's movement!!! Karakalpak people are called to a [protest] action in Nukus," the announcement reads in typo-laden Karakalpak.
(For the record, if you’re just tuning in, “peaceful rallies” don’t happen in Uzbekistan.)
Last week Forward Karakalpakstan claimed credit for a mysterious leaflet found in the town of Kungrad calling for Karakalpak independence, according to an April 29 press release by the heretofore-unknown “Shyrak Information Center” (which claimed to be set up this year by "activists of the Karakalpak democratic movement" to cooperate with "various dissident groups in the country and abroad").
When police close the roads and President Emomali Rakhmon’s fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes hightails it through Tajikistan’s capital several times each day, the ensuing traffic jams cause a fair amount of grumbling.
But the grumbling is not confined to Dushanbe. Apparently authorities in Berlin are peeved, too: They say hundreds of luxury cars in Tajikistan have been stolen off German streets and are being used by the president and his relatives, according to a German media report. And despite Berlin’s repeated requests to redress the issue, Tajik officials are ignoring the appeals.
Using GPS technology, German investigators have traced approximately 200 stolen German luxury vehicles to Tajikistan, including 93 BMWs, reports Deutsche Welle, citing the German tabloid Bild.
There have long been detailed rumors in Dushanbe’s Western diplomatic community that many of the luxury cars plying Dushanbe’s streets were stolen in Europe (and traded, somewhere along the way, for heroin), and that Tajik police officials are unwilling to address the problem.