Amid an ongoing Kyrgyz government probe into fueling practices at the Manas Transit Center near Bishkek, investigators are examining the relationship between Red Star Enterprises Ltd and Mina Corp, the former and current holders of a Pentagon supply contract, and entities once allegedly controlled by Maxim Bakiyev, the son of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
A Mina Corp spokesman insists that there was nothing unusual in the Gibraltar-registered company’s dealings with two specific Kyrgyz entities with alleged Bakiyev ties, Central Asian Fuels and Manas Aerofuels. The two Kyrgyz companies “are subcontractors that Mina has worked with," Mina Corp. representative John Lough said.
But an investigation conducted by EurasiaNet.org indicates that the lines separating Red Star and Mina Corp on the one hand, and Central Asian Fuels and Manas Aerofuels on the other, appear blurry. Manas Aerofuels is one of the companies at the center of the Kyrgyz government corruption investigation. Manas Transit Center is a key logistics hub for US and NATO military operations in Afghanistan.
The Kyrgyz General Prosecutor’s Office, in a statement issued in April, asserted that Manas Aerofuels and Central Asia Fuels, along with four other companies currently under investigation, were controlled by Maxim Bakiyev. In November, Azat Baigataev, the chief investigator at the Transport Office under the Prosecutor General’s Office in Bishkek, told EurasiaNet.org that his team was scrutinizing Red Star/Mina’s potential ties to Manas Aerofuels.
EurasiaNet found that Mina Corp registered website addresses in the name of Manas Aerofuels in 2008 and 2009. Red Star/Mina and Manas Aerofuels also shared office space as recently as mid-2010 at the Hyatt Hotel in central Bishkek, sources asserted.
In addition, the general director of Manas Aerofuels, Nurbek Tashibekov, has an email account that is affiliated with Red Star. On November 22, a EurasiaNet.org correspondent telephoned Red Star’s Bishkek telephone number in an attempt to contact Tashibekov. A receptionist who answered the call said he was not in the office and suggested contacting him via his email Red Star-affiliated email address. A EurasiaNet correspondent then emailed an interview request to the address provided, and it did not bounce back, indicating the address was valid. EurasiaNet’s email request, however, did not elicit a reply. During a follow-up call to Red Star’s offices on November 24, the receptionist asked Eurasianet.org to direct all further inquiries to a Mina Corp email address used by company spokespersons.
Manas Aerofuels and Red Star/Mina personnel shared office No. 102 in the Hyatt Hotel, staff at the hotel confirmed. The offices were recently vacated, but staff could not provide a precise time when company representatives moved out. The companies did not leave forwarding addresses. A source familiar with Red Star/Mina’s operations said Tashibekov had maintained an affiliation with Red Star/Mina since at least 2005. Manas Aerofuels was officially registered with the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice in 2008, although Tashibekov’s profile at LinkedIn, an internet-based business networking site, lists him as being Manas Aerofuel’s general director since 2004.
Red Star/Mina declined to answer a question why Tashibekov had a Red Star-affiliated email address, or explain his apparent relationship with Red Star.
Lough also would not answer a EurasiaNet query seeking clarification of Mina Corp’s role in creating websites in the names of various Kyrgyz entities.
According to domain name registration records, an individual using a Mina Corp email address, Nikolai Ushakov, is the current registrant of seven websites on behalf of Mina Corp. These include: cafuels.net; kaerofuels.com; manasaerofuels.net, manasfuels.net; minaafrica.com; shaheenjahani.net; and thefactchecker.com. Kaerofuels.com was created on February 27, 2006. Cafuels.net was created on August 7, 2008. Manasaerofuels.net was created on May 27, 2008, and manasfuels.net on March 12, 2009.
Ushakov is former employee of an ex-pat pub in Bishkek owned by Douglas Edelman, according to local newspapers reports from 2004. Edelman is the husband of Mina Corp’s beneficial owner Delphine Le Dain.
Ushakov also served as a director of Neda Telecommunications, an Afghan internet service provider. In addition, he has worked for MinaCapital, a Swiss based company. Ushakov told EurasiaNet.org on April 14 that MinaCapital and Mina Corp had no direct ties, but added that the two entities were part of “the same group of companies.”
Ushakov is additionally listed as the previous administrative contact for Red Star Enterprises’ website. The site www.rsel.net was created on August 21, 2003. The registrant was “Red” with the address in Kabul. The administrative contact was “Nikolai Ushakov,” using an email address affiliated with Neda.
Le Dain and her Kyrgyz partner, Erkin Bekbolotov, are the beneficial owners of Mina Corp, the company told Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) on November 24. However, the company did not provide any documentary evidence to support its assertion, other than a letter from Mina Corp’s CEO Denis Grigoriev, The DLA confirmed to EurasiaNet.org.
The Kyrgyz probe into Manas fuel supply practices opened in April, just days after the downfall of Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration. Initially, it focused on allegations that members of Manas airport’s board made improper payments to Manas Aerofuels. On May 13, a separate investigation was launched into the sale of Aalam Services, operator of the main fuel depot near the airport, to Manas Aerofuels in June 2009.
In October, Lough, the Mina Corp spokesman, said Mina merely “rented fuel storage from Manas Aerofuels until [the Kyrgyz entity’s] assets were expropriated by the interim government.”
A recent disclosure -- contained in a US diplomatic cable that came to light via the WikiLeaks website and publicized by the British newspaper The Guardian -- has injected an additional element of intrigue into the Kyrgyz fuel-supply investigation. The cable, which described a late 2008 meeting involving Britain’s Prince Andrew and British and Canadian business executives based in Bishkek, indicates that it was impossible to conclude major business deals at the time in Kyrgyzstan without the involvement of Maxim Bakiyev.
The Guardian report quoted from a cable reportedly prepared by US Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller. It stated that entrepreneurs attending the meeting all agreed that “nothing gets done in Kyrgyzstan if President Bakiyev's son Maxim does not get ‘his cut.’”
“Prince Andrew took up the topic with gusto, saying that he keeps hearing Maxim's name ‘over and over again’ whenever he discusses doing business in this country,” Gfoeller’s cable stated, according to the Guardian account. “Emboldened, one businessman said that doing business here is ‘like doing business in the Yukon’ in the nineteenth century, i.e. only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money. His colleagues all heartily agreed, with one pointing out that ‘nothing ever changes here. Before all you heard was Akayev's son's name. Now it's Bakiyev's son's name.’"
Beyond declining to explain Mina Corp’s reasons for setting up internet domains in the names of the Kyrgyz entities, Lough would not clarify why both Mina Corp and Red Star recently altered the original registration details of their respective websites.
Red Star’s details were changed within days of a formal request by US congressional investigators on April 12 to provide them with detailed information. Mina Corp’s details, meanwhile, were changed twice in September.
On April 14, the Red Star website’s details were updated to identify the registrant as “IT administrator” using an invalid address in Gibraltar.
The website www.minacorp.com was originally created on May 9, 2003. The administrative contact was “Mina Corp,” listing a West London address. The registrant was “Nommo” using a personal email address affiliated with the internet service provider AOL, and a physical address in Anguilla, an island in the Caribbean.
There were no changes to www.minacorp.com’s registration details until September 8, 2010 when the administrative contact’s email address was changed to Ushakov’s Mina-affiliated email. The contact telephone did not change and is the same number that EurasiaNet.org used to contact Stephen MacSearraigh earlier this year. MacSearraigh is a former director of Mina Corp.
On September 23, 2010, www.minacorp.com’s administrative contact details were changed again to “John Cash,” using a personal email address affiliated with the search engine Yahoo, and an address in Geneva.
Using forensic internet research techniques, the Yahoo email address was traced back to Ushakov. The phone number for Mina Corp’s administrative contact’s details given is one digit different from the Swiss cell phone number EurasiaNet.org used to contact Ushakov in April. Lough declined to respond to a EurasiaNet.org request to clarify Ushakov’s relationship to Mina Corp.
Another website that Ushakov is the current registrant of, thefactchecker.com, was first registered on October 13, 2004 by Douglas Edelman, using a swanky central London address. The administrative/technical contact was Iryna Tsenzharyk, who is also listed at the same swanky London address, while using a telephone number associated with Mina Corp’s office at 20 Conduit Street. Tsenzharyk has served as a Mina Corp secretary and as a nominee director.
Thefactchecker.com’s registration details were changed on October 16, 2008, to list Ushakov as the registrant using his Mina-affiliated email address.
Tsenzharyk is now the secondary point of contact for Red Star Enterprises with a phone number and mailing address in Dubai, according to the US government’s Central Contractor Registration database. Mina Corp is listed as the registrant of 16 websites, including www.minacorp.com. Eleven of those websites appear to be associated with Douglas Edelman.
Four sites, walrus-group.net; walrusentertainment.com, walrusentertainmentgroup.com and wegroup.info were registered by Mina Corp on January 19, 2010 using the swanky central London address and a British cell phone number. Wegroup.info’s details name “D. Edelman” as the registrant, with Edelman using a Mina Corp-affiliated email address. Edelman, via Red Star/Mina Corp, has repeatedly declined to be interviewed by EurasiaNet.org.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.