CIS-based kleptocracy has deeply trenched in the very fabric of the European society. While most of the oligarchs put their investment in Britain and France, some of the most clever one established their empires on the borderlands of the EU. Aslan Musin, one of Kazakhstan’s most elusive corrupt ex-statesmen, put his money in development projects and commercial properties in Bulgaria and Baltic states. The money once stolen from Kazakhstan is serving well, as Aslan Musin himself has been legalised in EU countries using the ‘investment passport’ scheme. The problem is that he used extortion to prove the legality of his income.
Aslan Musins and partners
In March of this year, a scandal broke out in Kazakhstan. The elder brother of the former head of the Nazarbayev’s administration Aslan Musin, Orynbasar, accused a relative of raiding his company. It was about Ramadan LLP— a multidisciplinary company associated with the production of food in the Aktobe region. According to Orynbasar, in the mid-noughties, the younger brother actually forced him to transfer half of the company to Asylbek Musin, the son of Aslan Musin. This was done ostensibly in order to explain to European supervisory agencies the origin of the wealth of Aslan Musin’s family members who conducted business in the European Union.
The Ramadan LLP company was quite suitable for these purposes. Annual turnover amounted to hundreds of millions of tenge. According to the State Revenue Committee, over the past 10 years alone, Ramadan LLP has paid more than 2.4 billion tenge of taxes to the budget. Almost two weeks later, Orynbasar Musin published a new video in which he renounced his previous words and asked forgiveness from an influential relative for accusations. It’s obvious that the second video was made under the pressure.
More on that in this video:
The words of Aslan Musin’s older brother are more like the truth. Especially in the part that concerns the legalisation of funds abroad. Before proceeding to our investigation, it is worth taking a little time to give some background information about Aslan Musin.
Aslan Musin career and the true origins of his wealth
Aslan Musin’s career as a statesman began in the Soviet Union. At the age of 25, he became an instructor, and then head of the department of the Proletarian district Committee of the Communist Party in Aktobe. By the time of the collapse of the Union, he managed to climb to the position of the secretary of the regional party committee. From 1995 to 2002, Musin held the seat of governor of Aktobe region, then moved to a similar position in the neighbouring Atyrau region. The highest point of his career is considered to be his work as head of the presidential administration from 2008 to 2012. After the bloody Zhanaozen events, the star of politics began to fade. First, he was transferred to work in the Accounts Committee, and then he was sent to diplomatic work in the Balkans, from where he retired three years ago.
Officially, neither Aslan Musin nor his wife Gulbanu have ever owned any business in Kazakhstan. Basically, his eldest son Asylbek, a rather extraordinary personality, dealt with these issues. Before his mysterious death in Riga, Asylbek Musin was considered the leader of the Kazakh Quranites— a religious movement that denies some dogmas of a traditional Islam. In Kazakhstan, they even published their own newspaper “Our World”, which was managed through an LLP of the same name, the founder of which was the public foundation “Fajr” created by Asylbek Musin with partners and associates — businessmen Yerlan Salmenov, Sergey Kushenov and Gafur Ihsan. At that time, they were connected not only by religious beliefs, but also by business interests.
Who is who in Musin’s clan
After the death of Asylbek, his shares in the business and partnerships were inherited by his younger brother Sauranbek. For example, two years ago Sauranbek Musin, together with Kushenov, Salmenov, former commercial director of Ramadan LLP and ex-managing director of the national company Astana EXPO-2017 Anaurbek Musin and Russian Dmitry Metelev opened the Medall aesthetic medicine clinic in St. Petersburg. According to the results of last year, the company received a loss of 249 thousand rubles. One breast correction costs exactly the same amount in their clinic.
Yerlan Salmenov is a permanent partner of the Musin clan in foreign projects. In particular, he manages the Panama offshore EdenInternationalTradingInc. This company is one of the affiliates of the Kazakhstan transport and logistics JSC “Tranko” and is a major shareholder of its “daughter” Nomad Cargo. Until 2017, the official owner of Tranko was Gafur Ihsan. Three years ago, his company was absorbed by the Dutch Central Asia Capital Investments BV through the purchase of subsidiaries, the ultimate beneficiary of which is Vladimir Kim.
Another devoted companion of the Musins is Sergey (Serik) Kushenov, he was also previously associated with the logistics business. Kushenov was a co-owner of Astana Contract JSC, and also headed Paragon Development LLP, which owned container and warehouse terminals in Almaty. Then the companies came under the control of Kazakhstan Kagazy, established in 2001 by Margulanomi Seisembayev. The value of the transaction was then estimated at $58 million, despite the fact that the debts of these companies to the State Development Bank of Kazakhstan amounted to $96 million. But Kushenov and his partners could not fully receive their money — Kazakhstan Kagazy almost immediately after the IPO in London, which allowed to collect more than $ 300 million from investors, defaulted on its bonds. In fact, the largest producer of recycled paper and packaging in Kazakhstan and Central Asia has declared bankruptcy. The new owners of Kazakhstan Kagazy accused the former management of withdrawing $150 million to foreign accounts and accounts of unrelated legal entities. The total damage from the actions of Maksat Aripa, who headed the company at that time, was estimated at $260 million. In 2018, a British court found Aripa guilty of fraud and decided to compensate Kazakhstan Kagazy. Last year, his property in the British capital was seized.
Musin’s investment in Latvian build-to-let and commercial estate
In 2018, a new non-profit organization appeared in Latvia — Aslbek Musin garīgā mantojuma fonds or “Asylbek Musin Spiritual Heritage Foundation”. For the purposes of the foundation, the release of scientific and philosophical films is announced. At least one film has been shot: it opens with a personal appeal by Aslan Musin.
Due to the fact that the Musin family decided to honour the deceased in this way, we can judge who Aslan Musin considers his closest partners.
In the founders of the foundation, in addition to Musin himself, there is his youngest son Sauranbek, the already mentioned Yerlan Salmenov and another relative – Anuarbek Nurbekovich Musin. All three participants act as owners or managers of dozens of legal entities in Latvia.
In addition to those listed above, it is worth mentioning another member of the clan – the nephew of Aslan Imangali Akylbekovich Musin. He is also a founding member of many organizations.
In Latvia, Musins invest in commercial real estate. The sale of a shopping center owned by one of the clan structures in 2014 was among the top 10 largest deals.
This giant shopping centre in Riga was acquired from the Musins by Elcor, one of the largest retailers of household appliances in Latvia. The transaction amount amounted to €5.59 million, while it was only partially monetary.
Investigators found out, as a result of the sale of the shopping centre, the Musins became the owners of the company SIA “BR 19”. This company owned a non-residential property with an area of 672 m2 in the very center of Riga – on Brivibas Boulevard, 19. At the time of the transaction, this property was estimated at € 2 million.
But not all investments were paying off so quickly. In August 2016, the Estonian ASM Invest Alliance OU company (presumably also controlled by the Musins) made a property contribution to the property of the Latvian SIA “DSR 19”. Then the company changed nominal owners several times, now it is owned by Ainur Kushenova (apparently, the wife of the Musins’ partner Sergey Kushenov) and the company SIA “Charmap 19”. That, in turn, belongs to the Cyprus offshore company Fawleron Finance Limited, registered to nominee owners. The director of Chapman 19 is Imangali Musin.
The property deposit worth €1.78 million is a plot of land in Riga on the banks of the Daugava River. Judging by the Google panorama service, nothing has been built there since the purchase.
Another notable company of the Musins is SIA “Diagen Estates”. Unlike other companies, it is focused on the consumer sector and therefore conducts public activities: it has a website, Facebook and Instagram groups. She is engaged in the purchase and renovation of apartments for rent. With a capital of €1.8 million (data for 2018) she claims to have 65 apartments.
So far, the company generates only losses and owes investors – personally Yerlan Salmenov, “BR 19” and “Charmap 19” companies €1.4 million.
At the time of creation, most of the Musin firms were registered at 47 Brivibas Street. Judging by the extracts, there is an apartment belonging to Gulban Uketaikyzy, the wife of Aslan Musin.
A little later, the Musins had a large office at Elizabetes 4. There, one of their companies implemented the Elizabete Garden Residence project. 12 apartments from 123 m2 (€640 thousand) to 204 m2 (€1.36 million) were put up for sale.
“Elizabete Garden Residence is an exclusive residential building of the late XIX century, which is located in the most prestigious area of Riga – a quiet centre,” realtors advertised the object.
Another office space that the Musins used as their headquarters is a house in Riga at the address of Nicholas Roerich, 1. A room in a small building at the back of the courtyard behind an alarm gate and its own parking is now being sold for €475 thousand.
In many cases, money was “invested” in Latvian companies from Cypriot offshore companies, they also acted as nominal owners of certain Musin companies for some time. But there is one exception.
The company “KSG Group” is 100% owned by Kazakhstan TOO “Smart Gate Group”. This firm with a capital of €9 million does business not only in Latvia, but also in Bulgaria. Now its director is Anuarbek Musin, previously this post was held by Sergey Kushenov.
Aslan Musin’s Bulgarian business and projects
At the beginning of 2014, a major event took place in the Sofia real estate market. About 25 hectares of previously empty land in an actively developing area of the Bulgarian capital have finally found their new owners. And after they announced plans for the development of this territory, the Bulgarian media called the deal and future projects the largest on the market after the 2008 crisis. The total cost of the investment in the development is now estimated at more than €200 million.
The second plot with a total area of almost six hectares, the Aslan Musin and his partners decided to develop gradually. The deal on it followed approximately the same pattern as with the first site. From the Jersey fund, he transferred in early 2014 to the balance sheet of Sofia Park Villas, the ultimate controlling party of which at that time was the Garage Investment Management of Anatas Garov. He, in turn, transferred control of Sofia Park to the aforementioned KSG Group, the Latvian company of the Musins.
Further, KSG Group distributed a stake in Sofia Park between Monoteo Capital Management (64%), Alatau trade group (12%), Erlan Salmenov’s company Abecebuild (12%), Garitage Investment Management (6%) and 3 D Retail Management (6%). The same configuration is maintained now, with the only difference that the share of Monoteo Capital was transferred to the balance of Falcon Solutions by the youngest of Musin’s sons. The company’s share capital has also not changed over the years and amounts to €30 thousand. The amount that the construction of the eponymous cottage village Sofia Park Villas for 34 houses cost them is not indicated in the company’s reports. As of December 31 last year, its book value was approximately €2.5 million.
In 2016, the company reported that it had managed to sell 31 cottages under construction. The overall development plan involves the construction of 56 houses on plots from 4 to 9 acres. The implementation of the second stage is scheduled for 2023. The total investment in the cottage project can be estimated at €20 — 25 million.
Obviously, such serious investments cannot be left unattended. Investigators have already revealed that the Musin clan is looking for an opportunity to obtain a second citizenship. They tried in Guatemala, but nothing came of it — they became a victim of an internal political scandal and found themselves involved in a criminal case. This time they decided to act legally.
Bulgaria is probably one of the few countries of the European Union whose citizenship is quite easy to obtain by spending relatively little money on this procedure. You don’t even need to learn Bulgarian to do this. It is enough to invest about € 0.5 million in government securities, and in five years you can get a Bulgarian passport. If this amount is doubled, then such an investor becomes a citizen of Bulgaria in two years, and if a number of formal conditions are met, this period can be reduced to 6 months altogether.
In December 2015, Gulbanu Uketaikyzy, Sauranbek Musin, Asem Musina, Yerlan Salmenov, Ainur Kushenova (apparently the wife of Sergey Kushenov) and Aizhan Botagarieva created six numbered sole proprietors (SPV-1,2,3,4,5,6) with a capital of €0.5 million to €1 million. All these companies are registered in one apartment in house No. 104 of the Sofia Park residential complex adjacent to the Garage Park.
Obviously, this was done for one purpose — to obtain Bulgarian citizenship. And they succeeded. In any case, the names of Gulbanu Uketaikyzy, Sauranbek Musin, Asem Musina and Erlan Salmenov are on the voter lists (download file) from the Simeonovo quarter (Vitosha district) in the elections to the European Parliament, which took place in May last year.
Sauranbek Musin’s Bulgarian citizenship is also indicated in the latest documents of his company.
Apparently, the head of the clan Aslan Musin did not apply for Bulgarian citizenship or is still in the process of obtaining it. According to the property register of Bulgaria, none of these persons in this country has any real estate listed.
The only member of the clan who, apparently, decided to really take root in Bulgaria is Sergey Kushenov’s mother Rosa. She not only bought herself an apartment in the Kaliakria Resort apartment hotel on the Black Sea coast, but also together with Anatas Garov is trying to develop a fish farming business. They own the company Ribenata Ferma AD (translated from Bulgarian as “fish farm”) on a parity basis, the headquarters of which is located in one of the office buildings in the Garage Park. This firm was also previously owned by the Jersey Foundation and was bought out of it in 2014.
As follows from the audit reports, the company even applied for a state program to support fishing and fish farming. Apparently, she is still engaged in the same real estate and is not very successful yet — as of December 31 last year, the accumulated loss of Ribenata Ferma reached almost €15 million. With an investment of €13.5 million, only €0.5 million was spent on fishing equipment. The rest of the money went to the purchase of land plots. One of them with an area of 12.5 hectares is located in the Samokov community of the Sofia region and cost the “fish farmers” € 4 million.