A Real Estate Empire Built on Dark Money

Since 2012, hundreds of millions of dollars from Kyrgyzstan — one of the poorest countries on earth — have poured into bank accounts in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East on behalf of a single family.

Much of that money ended up in an expansive real estate portfolio that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the shores of California.

That portfolio includes prestigious acquisitions, such as a mansion in one of London’s most exclusive neighborhoods and a $1.2 million home near Washington, DC. It also includes new real estate development projects, like a new 26-floor apartment tower in Dubai.

But though some of the other projects occupy prime real estate, they have stalled for unknown reasons, prompting questions about who is behind them.

“Is there even an investor or an architect anymore?” asked a group of lawmakers from Augsburg about one of the mysteriously inactive construction sites.

This investigation by RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, OCCRP, and its Kyrgyz member center, Kloop, answers that question — and connects the millions behind these investments to a murky enterprise half a world away.

Last month, the three outlets published an investigation that vaulted Khabibula Abdukadyr, a secretive ethnic Uighur tycoon based in Dubai, into the public eye. The series of stories revealed that he and his family run an underground Central Asian cargo empire that earned millions by smuggling goods, evading taxes, and employing other schemes that depended on corruption in the Kyrgyz customs service.

Some of the proceeds of this massive operation, channelled through the Abdukadyrs’ world-spanning company network, the AKA group of companies, ended up in existing properties and new real estate developments, both built and unbuilt, on multiple continents.

To move this money abroad, the Abdukadyrs relied on the services of Aierken Saimaiti, a self-confessed money launderer who deposited their millions in his accounts and wired them overseas, often making the transfers via his wife or his Kyrgyz company. He also used a network of working-class couriers to physically carry cash out of Kyrgyzstan and deposit it in Turkish bank accounts. From there, it could be sent wherever the Abdukadyrs wanted.

Saimaiti was murdered in Istanbul last month. But before his death, he had turned on his former employers, providing reporters with detailed descriptions of how they made their money and the techniques he used to funnel it abroad. He backed his claims with copious documentation, including personal spreadsheets and ledgers, wire transfer records, and cash declarations.

In total, Saimaiti moved more than $700 million out of Kyrgyzstan over the five years he worked for the Abdukadyr family. He did not provide documentation for that entire amount, but according to a subsequent investigation by the country’s financial police, the total figure may be considerably higher.

The documents he did provide to reporters show that he had sent at least $209 million of the Abdukadyrs’ money to Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Dubai — countries where the family was making large real estate investments.

🔗The Breakdown

Using Saimaiti’s records, reporters found at least $75 million in wire transfers to EU bank accounts held in the name of the Abdukadyr family and affiliated companies from 2014 to 2017.

Another $31 million was transferred to Bank of America accounts belonging to the family in the United States. Of a further $104 million that was wired to Dubai, most went to Abdukadyr family accounts, but a portion was also sent to local property developers. (The family has considerable real estate assets in the emirate.)

These amounts track closely with the numbers disclosed by Kyrgyzstan’s financial police about Saimaiti’s transfers. The police report also shows $27 million sent to the Netherlands and $81 million to Latvia.

Using land and company records, reporters were able to identify at least 20 properties the Abdukadyr family purchased. The total value of these properties, from mansions and city apartments to gleaming hotel towers, is not possible to determine. The family is known to have paid $65 million for real estate, but this figure is incomplete because records were not available in all countries and because it does not include the cost of developing the properties, which must have amounted to tens of millions more.

The materials Saimaiti provided also reveal the fraudulent methods he used to send the Abdukadyrs’ money abroad.

One of these was creating fake loan agreements to provide a cover story for the wire transfers.

Saimaiti gave reporters what he said was a sham contract stipulating that his Kyrgyz company, Abdyraz, would lend $30 million to AKA Petroleum, one of the Abdukadyr family’s main German companies. The contract — drafted under German law and dated July 1, 2014 — features AKA Petroleum’s corporate stamp and a signature closely resembling that of Khabibula Abdukadyr’s Munich-based representative.

Saimaiti also provided copies of seven wire-transfer orders totaling $3.7 million he made to AKA Petroleum accounts that specifically reference the sham contract.

Other transfers used different tactics. In many cases, they were made to appear as legitimate payments for goods, such as textiles. But the companies that received the money did not appear to be in the textile business.

In one case, Saimaiti personally wired $700,000 to Khabibula Abdukadyr’s German bank account, with the reason for the transfer listed as “textile production.” In another, he sent $290,000 to a Dubai property developer using an official code for a land plot with the words “for textile” appended at the end.

“These are large transfers, emanating from a poor country, and should have been looked at carefully,” says Graham Barrow, a dark money specialist who has advised major banks on how to strengthen their anti-money-laundering practices.

“Paradoxically, money launderers do not like to move or invest money through the unstable and corrupt systems that allow them to gain control over it in the first place,” he said. “This makes mature Western economies and stable, long-term investments like property particularly attractive.”

But the investments do little to benefit the countries they arrive in, Barrow said.

“The long-term effect of dark money … is to distort the market, often pricing out the very residents whose presence is required to support the local economy,” he said.

Neither Abdukadyr nor his business associates have responded to multiple requests for comment.

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Germany: The ‘Haunted House’ and the Phantom Headquarters

The construction project across from the fur shop here in Augsburg, one of Germany’s oldest cities, has dragged on for years. And Ernst Franzmann is not happy about it.

“There are always new people coming. They work, and then the work is stopped, and it’s littered with garbage. Everyone puts their trash out, and neither the owner nor the architect keeps an eye on this,” Franzmann, a furrier at the venerable Conrad Glock fur and leather shop, said in an interview outside the store this September.

“It’s an eyesore for the city,” added Franzmann, a bespectacled, mustachioed man who complains that the construction site has driven business away.

One early workday afternoon this fall, reporters saw a man walking inside the shell of a building, but no construction activity. Neighbors said only a handful of workers showed up to the site occasionally — though Franzmann said last week that some construction had picked up again. Still, the building has become known among locals as the “haunted house.”

Since 2015, various deadlines have been announced for the six-story, postwar building stretching over an entire block along Schmiedberg, an east-west thoroughfare in central Augsburg. At one point, it was supposed to be a hotel completed by 2016. The current plan is to turn it into an apartment complex, which was supposed to have been built by March 2019.

“Is there even an investor or an architect anymore?” asked a group of Augsburg lawmakers in a February 2018 letter to the mayor about the development.

There is. For the past eight years, the property has been held by the Abdukadyrs’ AKA group of companies.

In fact, the stalled project is just one of several German developments featured on the group’s now-defunct website. They also include a plot of land near Munich and an empty business center in the city that serves as the group’s phantom corporate headquarters.

The precise scope and value of the family’s properties in the country, where real estate ownership and sales records are not publicly accessible, is unclear. But the website also showcased plans and architectural renderings for additional hotel, residential, and business developments in several German cities and towns.

‘Phantom’ Headquarters

Two of the Abdukadyr family’s main companies — AKA Immobilien (now renamed AKA Group) and its subsidiary, AKA Petroleum — are incorporated in Germany. According to their most recent financial filings from 2017, these companies held over $106 million, though this figure likely includes assets outside Germany.

Their listed corporate address, meanwhile, appeared to be nothing more than a deserted business center in an industrial park in eastern Munich when reporters visited on a weekday this fall.

Boxes and construction materials could be seen strewn haphazardly across the ground floor. Not a single person was visible inside. Folding tables and a lonely broken umbrella lay near the dusty main entrance, while the courtyard brimmed with weeds and unkempt bushes.

Credit: RFE/RL The empty headquarters of the Abdukadyr family’s group of companies in Munich in September.

A small mailbox at the front of the premises listed the names of AKA Immobilien, AKA Petroleum, and two other German firms tied to the Abdukadyr network. A paper sign taped to the glass door at the main entrance directed visitors to a business center across the street, where the names of the four companies were listed next to a doorbell. Reporters rang the bell several times but received no answer.

Repeated calls to the number listed on the paper sign went to an answering machine. The calls were returned by the Abdukadyrs’ Munich-based representative, Kudrat Nurmamat. He refused to discuss the family’s business and has since declined subsequent interview requests.

The website of the Munich-based architectural firm Stark Architekten, which has also worked on the Augsburg “haunted house,” describes a proposed $19.2 million renovation of the empty AKA headquarters. It envisions a gleaming, five-star cylindrical glass hotel with 196 rooms — complete with AKA International branding.

“A Uniquely Stupid Fantasy Product”

In addition to the Augsburg “haunted house” and the deserted Munich business center, the Abdukadyr family purchased a plot of land in Vaterstetten, just east of Munich.

The now-defunct AKA website described the planned development there as a 220-room hotel with an expected completion date of December 2017. The Abdukadyrs have since sold the plot.

Credit: AKA website A rendering of a large hotel the Abdukadyr family planned in Vaterstetten, just east of Munich.

A local official in Vaterstetten said representatives of the group had shown plans for the proposed hotel but had never filed any formal paperwork to move the project forward.

At least two other AKA projects in Germany appear never to have existed at all.

The group’s website featured a proposed hotel in the German spa town of Bad Vilbel, northeast of Frankfurt. A local official responsible for commercial construction told Immobilien Zeitung in April 2018 that the images associated with the purported development were “a uniquely stupid fantasy product without a plot of land.”

This does not appear to have changed.

“I don’t know anything about such a project, so the statement of the city councilman still stands,” Yannick Schwander, a spokesman for the Bad Vilbel mayor’s office, said in an e-mail.

Another proposed project on the dead AKA site was the development of a hotel in the town of Dietzenbach, southeast of Frankfurt. A spokesman for the local government said that no official planning application had ever been submitted for such a project.

But if the Abdukadyr family never completed a real estate development in Germany, it wasn’t for lack of money.

Financial records that Saimaiti provided to reporters indicate that in 2014 and 2015, he wired at least $46 million to accounts held by Abdukadyr and his two main German companies.

Given the family’s financial resources, it’s unclear why so many of their German projects appear to be phantoms. The construction in Augsburg, at least, may now be picking up again. But even if none of the rest are ever completed, they already represent many millions of dollars successfully funneled out of Central Asia.

Credit: OCCRP A German company registration document for one of the Abdukadyrs’ German companies (left) contains the signature of Kudrat Nurmamat, the family’s local representative. On the right is a sham loan agreement provided to reporters by Saimaiti, which he used as justification to transfer the Abdukadyrs’ money to Germany. It also contains Nurmamat’s signature. (Click to enlarge)

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The United Kingdom: A Luxury Mansion and Uighur Kebabs

Uxbridge Road, a large, commercial thoroughfare in the Ealing district of West London, has gained a new lease on life since the 2007 announcement that a new railway, known as the Elizabeth Line, will run through the district.

It was here that the Abdukadyr family purchased a property known as Dawley House for $28 million in 2016.

Once the new rail line starts running in 2021, the property will be just 20 minutes from both central London and Heathrow Airport, making it an attractive investment opportunity.

According to permitting documentation and a defunct website for the Abdukadyrs’ AKA group of companies, the family had big plans for the site: A 12-story glass hotel with 113 apartments, “a ground-floor cafe, meeting facilities, and fitness center” that would loom over the surrounding area.

But according to locals, the site has been virtually untouched since the previous building was demolished almost three years ago.

On a recent weekday, there was no sign of construction, workers, or security guards at the site, which was just an empty lot behind a wooden partition and a few padlocked metal gates.

Credit: OCCRP The site of the former Dawley House is now an empty lot.

The Abdukadys bought the property through one of their UK companies, now called Miran International. The company’s financial filings for 2016, the year it bought Dawley House, show that it received $28 million from two foreign Abdukadyr firms that year, and that it used a corresponding amount for a real estate investment.

These firms — AKA International and Palvan Insaat — were among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars that Saimaiti, the self-confessed money launderer who worked for the Abdukadyrs, sent out of Kyrgyzstan on the family’s behalf.

Miran’s financial filings also show that Khabibula Abdukadyr himself loaned the company $2.5 million in 2016. The company gave roughly that amount to his son, Aibibula Nuermaimaiti, as a personal loan. A smaller amount was sent to a Nuermaimaiti company that used it to acquire what is now a well-reviewed Uighur restaurant in North London. This establishment appears to be the only Abdukadyr-affiliated entity that demonstrates tangible business activity in the United Kingdom beyond the acquisition of real estate.

“One of the Finest Homes”

The Abdukadyrs own at least four other properties in London, for which they have paid a total of about $16 million. One of these is an empty land plot.

Another of Abdukadyr’s sons, Aibibula Paliwanmuhaimaiti, bought a luxury apartment in a building overlooking the Thames River for over $2 million in 2016. The flat is in the Ascensis Tower, a 17-story high-rise in the Wandsworth neighborhood of southwest London.

But the Abdukadyrs’ crown jewel in the city is a mansion in one of its most exclusive neighborhoods — the leafy, private Coombe Park estate in Kingston upon Thames.

The mansion, known as Morton House, also serves as the registered address of the Abdukadyrs’ business operations in the United Kingdom.

Khabibula Abdukadyr, his wife, and two of his sons are listed as the owners of the mansion, which the family purchased for $6.8 million in 2015.

A brochure for the seven-bedroom home touts the area’s boating, polo, and golf opportunities, as well as its proximity to a variety of international schools and the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts the annual Wimbledon tennis championships. Of the property itself, the brochure says: “Undeniably this is one of the finest homes within a most exclusive road off Kingston Hill.”

The public’s access to the street is blocked by an electric security gate — erected amid controversy in 2008 — that its wealthy residents use a key code to open.

With additional reporting by Open Democracy and Transparency International UK, which provided information about some of the Abdukadyr family’s properties in the United Kingdom.

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The United States: From Sea to Shining Sea

Beginning in 2013, Khabibula Abdukadyr extended his business footprint to the United States, where he and his family set up a string of shell companies and made two real-estate purchases, one in California and one in Virginia.

The former is a four-bedroom, three-bath home north of Los Angeles, which features a pool and jacuzzi. Two of Abdukadyr’s sons purchased the property in November 2013 for $722,000. (They sold it in August 2019 for $785,000).

The other is a house in Great Falls, Virginia, purchased in April 2018 for almost $1.3 million. The two-story brick home was officially bought by AKA Development, a company incorporated the year before by Aibibula Yamaimaiti, a man several sources have identified as Khabibula Abdukadyr’s son.

The company is the listed importer of four shipments of construction materials between August 2018 and June 2019, as well as 29 pieces of furniture the Abdukadyrs shipped in October from their Turkish company, Palvan Insaat. A visit to the office park where AKA Development is registered revealed that dozens of companies and organizations, which run the gamut from solar energy to legal and pet-sitting services, use the premises as virtual offices. The Abdukadyr company had no visible presence in the building.

In addition to furniture, the family imported at least two luxury vehicles to the United States.

A 2011 Lamborghini and 2008 Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV were shipped in Yamaimaiti’s name to the family’s Virginia home, import records show.

Though the family’s real-estate holdings in the U.S. are considerably smaller than in several other countries, their U.S.-registered companies did receive substantial wire transfers from abroad courtesy of the self-confessed money launderer, Saimaiti.

The main recipient of the transfers was a company called AKA Energy, which was incorporated in Nevada in July 2014 and whose managers have included Abdukadyr, his wife, and two of his sons.

An internal financial spreadsheet and bank transfer records Saimaiti provided to reporters show that during a six-month stretch in 2014–15, his Kyrgyz company wired $29 million to Bank of America accounts in the name of AKA Energy, which has listed a business address in a strip mall in south Las Vegas.

The documents show the money was sent in 63 separate wire transfers in sums ranging from $100,000 to $800,000. For around $5 million of these transfers, the purpose was described as “debt return” for a contract purportedly concluded on October 2, 2014.

It’s unclear precisely what AKA Energy, which is still active, has done with this money. The company has no website, and reporters were unable to find any evidence of its business activity. The Abdukadyrs have not responded to requests for comment.

Another $750,000 was sent to Yamaimaiti’s Bank of America account. The transfer orders, which Saimaiti provided to reporters, stated that the funds were “for the purchase of a home.”

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Dubai: Towers and Villas

The Abdukadyr family’s business profile is much more prominent in Dubai than in Europe or North America.

Khabibula Abdukadyr and his relatives used tens of millions of dollars wired from Kyrgyzstan to snap up property and launch development projects in the emirate, where they run a company called AKA International (previously known as ABL Hospitality Management).

Bank records provided to reporters by Saimaiti, the self-confessed money launderer, show that in 2014 and 2015, he wired at least $104 million to AKA International and Dubai-based property developers on behalf of the family. He claimed this was just part of a much larger total, though he did not provide records to back up this claim.

The purpose of these transfers, Saimaiti said, was to fund the family’s real estate investments. “I transferred a lot of money from Kyrgyzstan to Dubai for land purposes,” he said.

According to Saimaiti, a site he called the “Marina” was among the Abdukadyrs’ major developments.

The now-defunct AKA website once advertised a flagship project called the AKA Marina Hotel & Residences. The “iconic new construction development,” just 500 meters from the waterfront, is described as a pair of towers — a 23-story hotel and a 60-story apartment building — linked by a “panoramic leisure deck bridge” with an infinity swimming pool. The site lists the project as being under “preliminary submission,” though its current status is unclear.

Two other major projects advertised on the AKA site are in an advanced stage.

One is the AKA Residence, a 26-story residential tower with 220 apartments that is near completion, according to UAE business media. The building is located in Jumeirah Village Circle, a newer development in the heart of Dubai. Reporters were unable to confirm how much money the Abdukadyrs poured into the project, but the budget for a major contractor was listed on an industry website as $40 million. Property rental websites are already offering apartments for rent in the building, with a 145-square-meter, two-bedroom apartment going for around $21,800 per year.

The second major AKA project under construction, called the MBL Residence, is a 45-floor high-end residential building that is part of the massive Jumeirah Lake Towers development. The project was advertised on the AKA site as one of the group’s main investments.

According to a slideshow advertising its features and amenities, the tower is a joint venture between AKA International and a multinational Dubai-based conglomerate called the MAG Group. A MAG representative said the company did not wish to comment on AKA’s involvement.

🔗A Joint Investment

The Abdukadyr family also invested in a five-story mixed-use building in Dubai that is in the final stages of construction. The land on which the site sits is owned by the wife of Raimbek Matraimov, a powerful former deputy head of Kyrgyzstan’s customs service. She is also a co-investor in the project. An earlier investigation revealed how Matraimov’s backing was essential to the success of the Abdukadyr family’s Central Asian transport empire. (Matraimov has publicly denied allegations of wrongdoing and did not comment about the Dubai project).

Aside from major real estate investment projects, the Abdukadyr family has made what appear to be personal purchases in Dubai.

A leaked database of private property in the emirate contains at least seven properties acquired by the Abdukadyr family and an employee.

These properties include four villas in Jumeirah Park, a development of over 2,000 houses, for which the family paid a total of just over $5 million. These were purchased by Khabibula Abdukadyr, two of his brothers, and the employee, who runs the family’s Turkish company.

Khabibula himself also owns a villa in the nearby Jumeirah Islands development, for which he paid $650,000.

The two apartments — one in a building on the artificial tree-shaped island of Palm Jumeirah, and one in a nearby tower called Al Dhafrah — were purchased by one of Khabibula’s sons and by a female relative for a total of $448,000.

Wire transfer records provided to reporters by Saimaiti confirm some of the information in the leaked database. In the first place, some of his wires were sent to a major developer in the Dubai real estate market, Nakheel, which built all but one of the villas and apartments the Abdukadyrs purchased.

In addition, Saimaiti explained, some of these wire transfers contained alphanumeric designations pointing to specific properties, but sometimes with misleading descriptions. For example, a September 2014 transfer of $290,000 to Nakheel includes the code “JVC11 YHRG 001C for textile.” Others show “delivery of goods” as the reason for the transactions.

The codes included in the transfers match the property identifiers included in the leaked database.

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