Mystery Surrounds Alleged Kidnapping And Killing Of Missing Tajik Banker


 Tajik prosecutors say they are continuing to search for the body of a well-connected banker who — according to officials — was kidnapped and killed by a group of gangsters and former law enforcement officers three weeks ago.

Shuhrat Ismatulloev, the deputy director of Orienbank, went missing late last month near his home in the capital, Dushanbe. Ismatulloev, 49, was deputy to Orienbank Director Hasan Asadullozoda, the brother-in-law of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

Tajik authorities — who usually are tightlipped about details of high-profile crimes — said the banker was forced by four men into a car with tinted windows and driven away at around 8 p.m. local time on June 23.

In an unusual step, the Interior Ministry offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the kidnappers.

The ministry also issued what it described were images of the car taken by security cameras.

New Twist

In what initially seemed to be irrelevant to Ismatulloev’s kidnapping, news broke on June 30 that a Tajik national had fatally shot two airport officials in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

Rustam Ashurov, 43, reportedly opened fire on Chisinau International Airport security personnel after he was denied entry into Moldova after flying from Turkey, Moldovan officials said.

Ashurov had grabbed a gun from a guard who was escorting him and began shooting, officials said. He died in hospital on July 3 from the injuries he sustained when security officers subdued him.

Moldovan police told reporters that Ashurov had worked for Tajikistan’s law enforcement agencies for seven years but was fired after committing a crime. Police said Ashurov had also served a prison term.

Shortly after the attack — while Ashurov was still hospitalized — Tajikistan announced that he was a suspect in Ismatulloev’s kidnapping.

Moldovan authorities said they had no information about Ashurov’s past when he was detained at the airport.

He was held at the border because he “could not clearly explain the reason for his arrival and the purpose of being in Moldova,” according to Ion Munteanu, Moldova’s acting prosecutor-general.

Suspects Named

A week later, the Tajik Prosecutor-General’s Office claimed Ismatulloev had been killed by his abductors several hours after he was kidnapped, though it did not offer proof.

It said in a July 7 statement that Ismatulloev was taken to a house in the village of Shodob, outside Dushanbe, where he was beaten, tortured, and subsequently killed by his kidnappers. The banker’s body and the car were thrown into the Zarafshon River, it added.

The crime was allegedly plotted by 40-year-old Dilshod Saidmurodov, who set up a 10-man “armed criminal group” to carry it out. The group had initially planned to kidnap Ismatulloev in March 2022, but the plan fell apart, authorities said.

Five of those involved have already been arrested, while four others fled the country, the prosecutor’s office announced. The names of the five suspects were not disclosed.

Officials issued the names and photos of the four fugitives, two of whom — including Saidmurodov — allegedly fled to Russia. Two others — including Ashurov — flew to Turkey.

Sources close to the investigation told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that Saidmurodov previously worked in law enforcement agencies.

Saidmurodov’s employment records include working for the Interior Ministry’s department against organized crime and a stint with the Anti-Cybercrime Unit within the General-Prosecutor’s Office, the sources said.

“Saidmurodov had also worked for the state anti-corruption agency but had been unemployed in recent years,” one of the Dushanbe sources said.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service also established that Ashurov had been imprisoned in 2012 for armed robbery and stealing some $100,000 from currency exchange shops. A source close to the Dushanbe city court said Ashurov was released from prison about two years ago.

Ashurov’s Confession?

In another unexpected turn of events, mobile phone footage appeared on social media that purportedly shows a final phone call between Ashurov and his mother.

RFE/RL cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video in which a man — said to be Ashurov — admits to taking part in Ismatulloev’s kidnapping, witnessing his killing, and disposing of his body.

He says the motive was “money, what else?!”

According to his account on the video, the men kidnapped Ismatulloev not to kill him but to force him to hand over some “$200 million” in bitcoins that the banker allegedly owned.

But Saidmurodov “beat him so much that he died,” the man said, adding that he then helped to throw the banker’s body into the river.

“They won’t catch [Saidmurodov] alive — he will kill himself too,” he said.

Ashurov allegedly made the video call from the Chisinau airport after killing the two officers.

“I just killed two people,” he said, pointing to the bodies on the floor.

“I am in the customs area [of the airport] now,” he tells the woman said to be his mother, as she cries hysterically on the phone. Another woman — purportedly Ashurov’s sister — can also be heard crying in the background with her mother.

No public comments have been made by Ashurov’s relatives in Dushanbe.

The video was allegedly recorded by Ashurov’s sister as the mother and son spoke on the phone. It remains unclear how it was leaked to social media.

Also, it’s not clear how Ashurov was able to freely make a video call while the bodies of the guards he killed laid on the floor with no airport personnel in sight.

Tajik authorities haven’t mentioned the video or possible motive behind the mysterious crime that has gripped the corruption-ridden Central Asian country.

Authorities say they’re still looking for the banker’s body. The fate of Saidmurodov and the two other alleged fugitives is unknown.

Source : Refrl