Public Land, Private Hands

Credit: OCCRP
Published: October 23, 2019

Between 2000 and 2008, authorities in Kyrgyzstan divided up a large swath of Ataturk Park, a beloved green space in the country’s capital, Bishkek, and handed it out to 173 people — many of them wealthy and well-connected.

These land grants were made with no oversight or public explanation, and the names of the beneficiaries were never released. Ordinary citizens in Bishkek only realized this was happening when parts of the park were suddenly fenced off, and the dust and noise of construction on private villas began to blow through what had been verdant land open to all.

But whose hands did the park fall into?

To answer this question, reporters from Kloop, OCCRP’s member center in Kyrgyzstan, went on a year-long journey to track down the history of every plot of land ever privatized in Ataturk Park. They bought hundreds of records from the national land registry, a costly and lengthy process. They also reviewed thousands of pages of decrees, court records, and other government documents; filed more than 60 information requests with the government; interviewed dozens of people; and even went undercover to get a glimpse of the park’s new crop of mansions and villas.

Bit by bit, they used this information to piece together the story of how four successive mayors and other officials gave away a large part of what was once known as “the people’s park.”

Their most important findings include:

To highlight these findings, Kloop and OCCRP built an interactive map profiling 78 politicians, officials, businessmen, and public figures — and their relatives — who got land in the park.

Kyrgyzstani law allows for small parcels of land to be granted to citizens — but using public parkland for such purposes is forbidden. And while thousands of those in need must wait for years to receive a small plot, those who got land in Ataturk Park had high-level positions or successful careers at the time. Most of them immediately sold the land they had been gifted, pocketing small fortunes from what was meant to be a public good.

Stories

The Park That Was Lost

More than a third of Ataturk Park, a beloved green space in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city, has been lost. Over the course of a decade, city authorities gave the land away — and what was once known as “the people’s park” is now a private enclave for the rich and famous.

23 October 2019 Read the article

The Officials Who Gave It Away

One after another, Bishkek city officials bent or broke the law to give prime land to Kyrgyzstan’s most elite citizens.

23 October 2019 Read the article

Big Man, No Campus

Almost three decades ago, architecture students were promised a brand-new campus on the grounds of Ataturk Park. Instead, the university’s land was given away to private owners, many of whom were members of the Kyrgyz elite — including their own rector.

23 October 2019 Read the article

From Public Park to Millionaires’ Row

Kyrgyz authorities wanted to build a hotel complex for foreign delegations in Bishkek’s Ataturk Park. Instead, the public land ended up in the hands of private businessmen — again.

23 October 2019 Read the article

Interactive

Who Got the Land?

The Decrees

Key Facts

Project Team

Coordinator: Miranda Patrucić

Reporting: Alexandra Li, Metin Dzhumagulov, Danil Lyapichev, Olga Gein, Anna Kapushenko, Eldiyar Arykbaev

Editing: Miranda Patrucić, Julia Wallace, Ilya Lozovsky, Kira Zalan, Jodie DeJonge, Vlad Lavrov

Images, Infographics, and Interactive Map: Edin Pašović, Metin Dzhumagulov, Tilek Beishenali uulu, Svetlana Zelenskaya, Kamila Baimuratova

Drone Shots: Tilek Beishenali uulu

Video: Arseny Mamashev, Bekjan Asylbekov, Aizirek Imanalieva

Fact Checking: Birgit Brauer, Dima Stoianov, Inna Civirjic, Olena LaFoy

Translation: Ilia Donskih, Alexandra Li, Almir Almambetov, Kairat Zamirbekov, Darya Suleiman, Natalia Vasilieva, Rustam Khalimov, Elvira Sultanmurat kyzy

Layout: Adem Kuric, Kenan Ibrovic, Hakhim Davurov, Alexandra Li, Aleksei Gulyaev

Promotion: Maya Perry, Anna Kapushenko, Rustam Khalimov, Aziza Raimberdieva, Evgeniya Mikhailidi