The Kyrgyz public is questioning the government’s silence on the $1.1 billion gold sale

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The government’s initial silence about exporting a record amount of gold to an undisclosed customer last year drew attention these days in Kyrgyzstan, where the gold mining industry has been shrouded in secrecy and the largest mine is rumored to be riddled with corruption.

Kyrgyzstan’s record gold exports last year raised questions this month when government secrecy covering the sale was leaked. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay, License)It was the first time since at least 2018 that authorities withheld the identity of the customer of their gold.

Faced with restrictions on freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan, people flocked to social media to express their outrage, asking why the secrecy and where the money went.

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

Home to Central Asia’s largest gold mines, Kyrgyzstan exported $1.4 billion worth of gold last year, of which $1.1 billion was purchased by a country that was not disclosed to the public. Media later revealed that it was Switzerland. The information was publicly available in the database of the Federal Office of Customs and Border Protection.

Part of the reason why this cover-up by the Kyrgyz authorities sparked an uproar in the country also has to do with the country’s largest gold mine, Kumtor, which would be responsible for exporting gold on such a large scale.

Kumtor has been shrouded in secrecy for decades and is rumored to be drowning in large-scale corruption, which was confirmed sometime in a 2021 investigation by Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee.

The gold mine, formerly operated by a private Canadian mining company and the Kyrgyz government, was fully nationalized last month under an undisclosed agreement.

Concerns about the gold export, which took place in April 2021, began to sprout when local media outlet Azattyk raised questions about who the unspecified customer buying large quantities of the precious metal was.

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

“This is not done to hide something from the population, but to ensure the safety of the cargo,” President Sadyr Japarov, who has been in power since January 2021, said in an interview with a state news agency on Saturday.

“Imagine that, in order to move $1 billion worth of gold, the National Bank needs to transport it by air across several countries. Of course, when they announce that they intend to export so much gold to this and that country, there is a risk that the gold will not reach its destination,” he explained.

“I don’t believe a word you say,” wrote another person under an interview by President Japarov. “Just another blah blah blah,” added another.

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