Prosecutors in Tajikistan have confirmed that one of the men they suspect of kidnapping and murdering a local top banking executive to steal his cryptocurrency holdings was the same person who shot dead two airport security officers in Moldova late last month.
In a fresh twist to the case, footage surfaced online on July 7 in which the suspect, Rustam Ashurov, can been seen making a video call to his mother and explaining the alleged sequence of events that culminated in the airport shooting. The call, which appears to have been made directly from the Chisinau airport terminal shortly after the shooting incident on June 30, includes images of the killed security officers.
Ashurov claims in the confession that he was approached on an unspecified date by an officer in Tajikistan’s State Committee for State Security, or GKNB, whom he named only as Dilshod, with a proposal to kidnap Shukhrat Ismatulloyev, the deputy head of Oriyonbank. Dilshod told him that Ismatulloyev held around $100 million in Bitcoins, Ashurov says.
“Dilshod said that we would transfer the money and let Shukhrat go. But he began to beat Shukhrat severely, and he died. I then threw [his body] into the river,” Ashurov is heard telling his sobbing mother. Ashurov says in the same call that he expects to be killed by security personnel in the airport.
It is unclear who filmed Ashurov’s mother speaking by video call to her son. The high likelihood is, however, that law enforcement officers were staked out at her Dushanbe home in anticipation of a possible call from Ashurov.
Ismatulloyev disappeared on June 23. The Interior Ministry said some days later that they had information the executive had been abducted outside his home by four unknown people and taken in a direction north of the capital. No trace of Ismatulloyev or his vehicle has been found since.
No potential suspects in the kidnapping were named until the shooting that took place in Chisinau, a city almost 3,500 kilometers away from Dushanbe.
After Moldovan authorities announced to the media that the name of the shooter was Rustam Ashurov, Tajik law enforcement revealed that he was a member of the gang suspected of involvement in the Ismatulloyev kidnapping. Ashurov sustained 10 gunshot wound during his airport standoff and died in hospital two days later.
Ashurov reportedly flew to Chisinau from Istanbul, a city to which he had traveled from Tajikistan on June 25, two days after the kidnapping occurred. Authorities in Moldova have said that the deadly incident at the airport began when Ashurov was refused entry into the country and was then led away by airport staff. As this was happening, he grabbed the weapon of one of the guards and opened fire.
In their latest update on the case on July 7, the Tajik General Prosecutor’s Office said Ashurov was part of a 10-man kidnapping gang. It named a person by the name of Dilshod Saidmurodov as the leader of the group, but provided no confirmation of the claim that he was at any time a member of the security services.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, cited anonymous law enforcement sources as saying that Saidmurodov was known to be a former employee in the anti-organized crime division of the Interior Ministry and had also led the cybercrime unit of the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Five out of the 10 total suspects have so far been detained, prosecutors have said.
Saidmurodov, who holds Russian citizenship, is not among the detainees and is believed to be at large in Russia.
Efforts to locate Ismatulloyev’s body are still ongoing. His death appears to have been confirmed from the testimonies of detained suspects, although that detail remains to be confirmed definitively.
Emergency Situations Ministry workers are searching the Zarafshan River for a body, but hopes are scant that any discovery will be made due to the swiftness of the current.