Kyrgyz Public Questions Government’s Silence over $1.1B Gold Sale

Published: 02 September 2022

Gold Bars

Kyrgyzstan's record gold export last year raised questions this month when government’s secrecy shrouding the sale came to public attention. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay, License)

By Metin Dzhumagulov

The government’s initial silence about the export of a record amount of gold to an undisclosed client last year raised eyebrows these days in Kyrgyzstan, where the gold mining industry has been shrouded in secrecy and the largest mine is rumored to be rife with corruption.

It was the first time since at least 2018 authorities withheld the identity of their gold’s client.

With restricted freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan, people flocked to social media to express their outrage, asking why the secrecy and where the money went to.

“I want to know where my gold went and who got it!” one Facebook user demanded.

Home to the largest gold mines in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan exported gold worth US$1.4 billion last year, $1.1 billion of which was bought by a country undisclosed to the public. Media later revealed it was Switzerland. The information was publicly available on the Swiss Federal Office of Customs and Border Security database.

A reason as to why this concealment by Kyrgyz authorities caused an uproar in the country relates also to the nation’s biggest gold mine, Kumtor, that would be in charge of exporting gold in such large scales.

Kumtor has been surrounded by secrecy and rumored to be drowning in large-scale corruption for decades, which was at some point confirmed in a 2021 investigation by the Kyrgyz Committee of National Security.

The gold mine, which used to be dually operated by a private Canadian mining company and the Kyrgyz government, was fully nationalized last month under an agreement which was not publicly disclosed.

Concerns regarding the gold export, which took place in April 2021, started budding when local media outlet Azattyk raised questions about who the unspecified client buying bulks of the precious metal was.

Finally, in an official statement last week, the National Bank claimed the money from the sale settled on its accounts and that the gold went to a European country, without disclosing any details, citing security reasons.

“This is not done to hide anything from the people, but for the safety of the cargo,” President Sadyr Japarov, who’s been in power since January 2021, said on Saturday in an interview with a state news outlet.

“Imagine for yourself, the National Bank, in order to transport gold worth a billion, needs to transport it over several countries by air. If they announce that they intend to export so much gold to such and such a country, naturally, there are risks that the gold may not reach its destination,” he explained.

“I don't believe a word you say,” another person posted under an interview given by President Japarov. “Just another blah, blah, blah,” someone else added.