kyrgz high res


In 2010, the small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan imploded. An uprising ousted its president, Kurmanbek Bakyiev, the second violent change of government in five years. The upheaval left an already poor country close to economic collapse. Read more

Global Witness’s work has focused on the corruption that allowed the Kyrgyz economy to fall into the hands of a few powerful individuals, with the help of a network of international shell companies.

In 2012, our report Grave Secrecy revealed an alleged money laundering scheme involving billions of dollars in suspicious transactions passing through AsiaUniversalBank (AUB), Kyrgyzstan’s largest bank with alleged ties to the former president. Up to US$64 million in state funds was missing from AUB, money which belongs to the Kyrgyz people.

Global Witness investigated dozens of companies that held accounts at AUB, many registered in the UK and US. We found hundreds of millions of dollars moving through these accounts while not being engaged in any real business activity. Most astonishingly, the shareholder of one UK company was a Russian man who had died some years before the company was registered. The dead man’s identity had been used to hide the real owner of a company that appeared to have US$700 million flowing through its account at AUB.

Our work in Kyrgyzstan helped bring the abuses of the former regime to light, and how their actions impacted the people of Kyrgyzstan. But crucially this scandal also shows how the state looting that keeps poor countries poor and dictatorships in power is made possible by the international financial system. The corruption which tore Kyrgyz society apart could not have happened without a complex web of international anonymous ‘shell’ companies to cover up what was going on, companies not just registered in sunny tax havens, but in London and other major financial centres. Urgent action is required to close these loopholes in the UK, the US and other major economies.