Banker Sitting in U.S. Prison Has a Most Incredible Tale to TellBy
Eugene Gourevitch claims he saw looting, bribery in Kyrgyzstan
Now he says he wants to help U.S. recover millions lost
Eugene Gourevitch, a 39-year-old Berkeley-educated finance whiz, spends his days working in the library in a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama. He’s serving a five-year sentence for wire fraud related to insider trading.
How Gourevitch ended up as an inmate is no run-of-the-mill Wall Street tale of a promising career gone awry. It’s a story so snarled that it borders on the absurd, part pulp thriller, part black comedy. And it shows what can happen when the government is stuck relying on a crafty opportunist.
By Gourevitch’s telling, in a telephone interview and to investigators, he was an accomplice or eyewitness to widespread looting and corporate bribery in the obscure former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. He even served as a bag man at times, was kidnapped and became mixed up with the Italian mob.
Tangled though his story may be, this seemingly dream informant could be the U.S.’s best hope for shedding light in a region where opacity and secrecy in government financial affairs are the norm.
“He’s a guy who seems to have landed in the right place at the right time” to become enmeshed in the regime’s affairs, said Alexander Cooley, a Barnard College political science professor who has studied the central Asian country.
Gourevitch has volunteered his story to help a U.S. Justice Department team that tracks down and returns stolen money to poor countries. In May 2015, lawyers for the Justice Department, the FBI and Kyrgyzstan spent 14 hours over two days grilling Gourevitch in a conference room at the Alabama prison. Bloomberg News reviewed a copy of a transcript of the questioning.
After showing little sign of progress for at least two years, the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative is moving forward with its probe to locate Kyrgyzstan assets, according to a person familiar with the matter.
But it’s unclear how much, if at all, prosecutors will use Gourevitch’s information in their efforts.
While aiding U.S. authorities in an insider-trading probe, Gourevitch said he intentionally threw a wrench into the investigation by stealing $6 million from the target’s accounts. He acknowledged that his scheme doesn’t exactly burnish his credibility with prosecutors.
The Justice Department “is massively pissed at me,” he said in the interview with Bloomberg News. At his sentencing for wire fraud, a U.S. judge called the theft “an egregious breach of trust” by someone displaying “less than genuine remorse.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Gourevitch or the investigation. Gourevitch said that he’s willing to help in any way he can, hoping for a reduced jail sentence.
“I did not come to Kyrgyzstan to rob the country blind,” he said. “As cliché as this will sound, I at least would like to be able to look my daughter in the eyes when she grows up and explain” that “her father was not a terrible person.”
His offer is the latest development in a long-running tale of alleged corruption involving former Kyrgyzstan president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his son Maksim. The family, which took control of Kyrgyzstan in 2005 in a revolt known as the Tulip Revolution, was once seen as an ally of the U.S. in fighting terrorism.
The regime was overthrown in 2010, though, and the new government later convicted both Gourevitch and Maksim Bakiyev of corruption-related crimes in absentia. Bakiyev was convicted of embezzling more than $130 million in state funds. Among other crimes, Gourevitch was convicted of taking part in the illegal sale of a fuel depot. Gourevitch says the court proceedings were not legitimate.
Bakiyev, who now lives in Surrey, a posh county carved out of the rolling hills south of London, didn’t respond to a letter mailed to his residence or to requests for comment made through his lawyers. His father lives in Belarus, where the president granted him protection.
Gourevitch, a husky, round-faced man who sports a bushy beard and glasses, was born in Moscow, moving to San Francisco in 1990 with his mother after his parents divorced. He became a U.S. citizen a few years later and by 1999 had earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of California-Berkeley.
In 2008, after working as a New York-based international business consultant, Gourevitch joined with partners, including Maksim Bakiyev, to establish a Kyrgyz investment bank.
Over time, Gourevitch told investigators, he became aware of “massive” bribery schemes benefiting Bakiyev, including skimming money from government projects to accepting bags stuffed with cash.
In one example, he told them that a company regularly bribed Bakiyev “in effect for the authority and the ability to operate in Kyrgyzstan,” according to the transcript.
In the interview with Bloomberg, Gourevitch elaborated, saying that Bakiyev would ask him to pick up $2 million in bribes from the company’s office. “I would go there to work on something unrelated,” Gourevitch said. “He would say, ‘As long as you’re going down there, they have a package for me.’”
Gourevitch also told investigators about alleged bribes in connection with fuel contracts for a U.S. air base operated in Kyrgyzstan during the war in Afghanistan.
Describing the incident to Bloomberg, Gourevitch said it occurred while he, Bakiyev and a representative for a company were buying suits from a bespoke suit designer flown to Kyrgyzstan from Italy. At the Hyatt hotel where they were trying on the goods, he watched the businessman “hand over a bag full of money” as a bribe to Bakiyev, Gourevitch said in the interview.
The good times came to an end, according to Gourevitch, after the 2010 coup that toppled Bakiyev’s father.
While the Bakiyevs made it out of the country, to Belarus, Gourevitch was left behind, a wanted man for aiding the old regime, he told Bloomberg. He said he was soon captured by Chechen rebels, who offered to get him out of Kyrgyzstan for a price. He made it across the border, into Kazakhstan, by lying in the backseat of a car, covered in blankets. Gourevitch’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, who was in contact with Gourevitch throughout the events, also described the kidnapping in court during the sentencing hearing.
He was ultimately saved by Maksim Bakiyev, who permitted Gourevitch to fly to Belarus on a private plane dispatched for family members, he said. Bakiyev demanded that Gourevitch manage his investments as a way to pay off the $2 million he wanted for freeing him, according to Gourevitch.
They soon turned to an alleged insider-trading scheme with two tipsters based in the U.K., according to his interview and documents from criminal cases. (The two men, and a third from Long Island, later pleaded guilty to insider-trading related crimes but received no jail time.)
As the months went by, Gourevitch said he became desperate to get out of Belarus, where he says he was “under the thumb” of the Bakiyevs. He also had authorities bearing down on him from Kyrgyzstan and from Italy, where he was accused of taking part in a tax avoidance scheme that involved the mob.
He hit on a plan to tell U.S. authorities about the insider-trading scheme. He knew it could land him in trouble, but at least he’d be freed from other entanglements, and his cooperation could get him a lesser sentence.
Working with the U.S. government, Gourevitch spent the next six months recording hours of conversations with Bakiyev and his partners to try to implicate them in insider trading, according to court records.
Then, suddenly, in an about-face, he executed a ploy to undermine the investigation by transferring $6 million from Bakiyev’s account into his own in March 2012. He confessed to his government handlers three months later, agreeing to waive immunity, according to Gourevitch. He turned over the $6 million to U.S. authorities, where it remains.
He said his goal was to turn himself into a problem witness and thus damage any case against Bakiyev. Why would Gourevitch now want to help him? He said he felt grateful to Bakiyev for freeing him in Belarus.
The ploy may have worked. Shortly after his confession, a U.S. insider-trading probe into Bakiyev evaporated and an extradition request to the U.K., where he was living, was dropped without comment from the U.S. government, according to prosecutors.
Gourevitch said he hopes for the assets to be returned to Kyrgyzstan, and he wants “some recognition for the assistance he provided.” Meanwhile, he’s working on a book about his adventures. “Shadow Advisor” is the working title.
“At the very least,” he said, “I want my story to be out there.”
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