Tajik law enforcement authorities say they are continuing to search for the body of Shuhrat Ismatulloyev, 49, the first deputy head of Orienbank who -- according to officials -- was kidnapped and killed by a group of gangsters and former law enforcement officers more than three weeks ago.

Tajik authorities said the banker was forced by four men into a car with tinted windows and driven away at around 8 p.m. local time on June 23.

The Interior Ministry offered a US$30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the kidnappers.

Tajikistan’s authorities said on July1 that the man who allegedly opened fire and killed two security personnel at Chisinau International Airport is a Tajik national, identified as Rustam Ashourov, who is suspected of being in an “organized criminal group” that is believed to have kidnapped Shuhrat Ismatulloyev, on June 23.  Moldovan law enforcement authorities said that security personnel fired back at Ashourov, wounding him before taking him under arrest.  He later died in a hospital.  

A week later, the Tajik Prosecutor-General’s Office claimed Ismatulloyev had been killed by his abductors several hours after he was kidnapped, though it did not offer proof.

It said in a July 7 statement that Ismatulloyev was taken to a house in the village of Shodob, outside Dushanbe, where he was beaten, tortured, and subsequently killed by his kidnappers.  His body and the car were thrown into the Zarafshon River, it added.

The crime was allegedly plotted by 40-year-old Dilshod Saidmurodov, who set up a 10-man “armed criminal group” to carry it out.  The group had initially planned to kidnap Ismatulloyev in March 2022, but the plan fell apart, authorities said.

Five of those involved have already been arrested, while four others fled the country, the prosecutor’s office announced. The names of the five suspects were not disclosed.

Radio Liberty's TajikService reported on July 14 that officials issued the names and photos of the four fugitives, two of whom -- including Saidmurodov -- allegedly fled to Russia.  Two others -- including Ashourov -- flew to Turkey.

Sources close to the investigation told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that Saidmurodov previously worked in law enforcement agencies.  Saidmurodov’s employment records reportedly include working for the Interior Ministry’s Organized Crime Control Directorate and a stint with the Anti-Cybercrime Unit within the General-Prosecutor’s Office.  “Saidmurodov had also worked for the state anti-corruption agency but had been unemployed in recent years,” one of the Dushanbe sources said.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service also established that Ashourov had been imprisoned in 2012 for armed robbery and stealing some US$100,000 from currency exchange shops. A source close to the Dushanbe city court said Ashourov was released from prison about two years ago.

Concerning mobile phone footage appeared on social media that purportedly shows a final phone call between Ashourov and his mother, RFE/RL said it cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video in which a man -- said to be Ashourov -- admits to taking part in Ismatulloyev’s kidnapping, witnessing his killing, and disposing of his body.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service says no public comments have been made by Ashourov’s relatives in Dushanbe.

According to RFE/RL, the video was allegedly recorded by Ashourov’s sister as the mother and son spoke on the phone.  It remains unclear how it was leaked to social media.

Also, it’s not clear how Ashourov was able to freely make a video call while the bodies of the guards he killed laid on the floor with no airport personnel in sight.

Tajik authorities haven’t mentioned the video or possible motive behind the mysterious crime that has gripped the country.

According to some source, Shuhrat Ismatulloyev is the brother of Dilshod Ismatullozoda, the former head of Tajik Air (Tajikistan’s national air carrier), and one of the people close to Hasan Asadullozoda, the head of Orienbank and the brother-in-law of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (his wife’s brother).  

He has reportedly been the first deputy head of Orienbank for years and according to the people in the know, it was Shuhrat Ismatulloyev who actually handled Orienbank’s affairs.  

Orienbank is one of the oldest banks in Tajikistan, and one of its largest financial institutions.