FBI investigating deaths of two Kazakh oligarch whistleblowers in a Route 66 motel

FBI investigating deaths of two Kazakh oligarch whistleblowers in a Route 66 motel

16:06 03.09.2019

The FBI is investigating the mysterious deaths of two potential witnesses in a corruption probe into a £20billion mining giant lead by three Kazakhstan oligarchs.

James Bethel, 44, and Gerrit Strydom, 45, were originally believed to have died of cerebral malaria when their bodies were discovered in a motel in Springfield, Missouri, in May 2015.

The FBI has since taken over the investigation – which was never officially closed – from Springfield police as an leading expert found the likelihood of the two men dying of malaria at the exact same time ‘almost certainly nil’.  

Mr Bethel and Mr Strydom, both from South Africa, were senior officials in Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation’s interests in Africa.

The company is in the midst of a criminal corruption investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and it is understood that the men – who left the company in 2015 – were seen as potential witnesses. 

James BethelGerrit Strydom

The FBI is investigating the mysterious deaths of James Bethel, 44, (left)  and Gerrit Strydom, 45, (right). The men are potential witnesses in a corruption probe into a £20 billion mining giant lead by three Kazakhstan oligarchs

The SFO – whose bribery investigation focuses on the company’s mines in Africa – had reached out to Mr Bethel before he and Mr Strydom left Johannesburg and flew to Chicago via Amsterdam, sources said. The pair took a trip along Route 66 on Harley-Davidson motorcycles which they hired.

They were found dead in their room by staff at the La Quinta Inn. 

The CDC found malaria in blood and tissue samples samples sent off by a local medical examiner. Fears that the samples were unreliable have now emerged.

The agency believed the men may have contracted the deadly disease during a fishing trip they took together in Zambia – two weeks before they started feeling ill on their flight to the US. 

Alexander MashkevitchPatokh Chodiev

The ENRC was set up by oligarchs Aslexander Mashkevitch (left), Patokh Chodiev (right) and Alijan Ibragimov, who have a respective estimated wealth of $1.9 billion, $1.8 billion, and $1.9 billion

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine malaria expert Sam Wassmer told the author of upcoming book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World ‘the likelihood of two separate people developing the disease at the exact same time and dying the same night is almost certainly nil’.

Genetic analysis ruled out the theory that the men were bitten by the same mosquito, which was the only plausible way the initial cause of death could have been explained, the Financial Times reports.  

The case was never officially closed by local police. The case was passed over to the FBI – but it is unclear when this handover happened.

Alijan Ibragimov

Alijan Ibragimov (pictured) is one of the founders of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation. The company is in the midst of a criminal corruption investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office

 

The ENRC was set up by oligarchs Aslexander Mashkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, who have a respective estimated wealth of $1.9 billion, $1.8 billion, and $1.9 billion, Forbes reports. 

The men took hold of mines in Kazakhstan after the Soviet Union’s collapse lead to mass privatization. The ENRC was worth £20 billion at one stage, and was highly valuable in the UK.

They expanded to various mines in Africa, where Mr Bethel and Mr Strydom worked.

Author Tom Burgis told The Daily Beast: ‘The billionaires who control ENRC holiday in the south of France with presidents or on superyachts half as long as the Titanic [Uzbekistan-born Ibragimov, spends much of his time on a reported 26-cabin, $200 million yacht]. 

He added: ‘But more importantly, their money is power in the rawest sense. In places like Kazakhstan and Congo […] oligarchs such as these have power like that of the old imperialists.

‘They have extended that power into the rich democracies with the help of lawyers, bankers, spin doctors, lobbyists and spies.’

A spokesperson for ENRC commented: ‘Mr Burgis’ attempts to draw a link between these deaths to ENRC are entirely without substance. 

‘It appears as though he has been used to advance an agenda by ENRC’s adversaries, and is using sensationalist headlines in order to generate negative publicity around the company.’

The ENRC the SFO for £70million last year, alleging wrongdoing in the way it conducted the investigation. 

It claims the lawyer it hired to look into fraud and corruption allegations internally passed on details to contacts at the SFO. Allegations are denied by all parties.

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