Kyrgyzstan: The rise and fall of a sex webcam magnate

Kyrgyzstan: The rise and fall of a sex webcam magnate
Daniel Azhiyev enjoys advertising his luxury lifestyle on social media. / Instagram
By Ayzirek Imanaliyeva for Eurasianet November 1, 2023

The rise of Daniel Azhiyev – poor village boy turned online influencer, sex industry entrepreneur and would-be philanthropist – has been nothing if not dramatic.

His fall too is coming with a flavour of lurid sensation.

On October 17, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, announced it had seized $500,000 from Azhiyev, who is now behind bars awaiting trial on suspicion of running an international network of sex webcam studios. The GKNB said Azhiyev had tried to use the money as a bribe to secure his release.

Azhiyev’s life has been, as he likes to remind people, a rags-to-riches story. He spent his very early, fatherless childhood in a village in the southern Jalal-Abad region. When he was five, the family moved to the capital, Bishkek. Schooling was scant. Azhiyev dropped out after the seventh grade and says he sometimes “slept on the street.”

The dream was to get into the music industry. He made a foray in that direction in the early 2010s under the moniker MC Mino, alternating between syrupy love songs and braggadocio tributes to the virtues of hard partying. His success was modest.

That was certainly not how he earned the wealth he would later become notorious for flaunting. Clues on that point are offered by accounts of Azhiyev’s first run-in with the law.

In 2018, he was made the subject of a criminal investigation after the police discovered 16 computers and 150 sex toys during a raid on an apartment belonging to Azhiyev. What the officers had found was an elaborate online sex webcam operation. Clients of such services pay money to young women – often from underprivileged backgrounds – to perform sex acts on camera on demand.

Azhiyev did not deny the charges. Lack of legislation around this type of activity meant the punishment was mild: a fine of around 30,000 som ($450).

This kind of thing invariably fuelled allegations that Kyrgyzstan’s thriving sex webcam industry enjoyed the patronage of law enforcement itself.

But it was not this tawdry business that thrust Azhiyev into the public eye. It took COVID-19 for that to happen.

As the coronavirus spread, Kyrgyz authorities scrambled. As in many countries across the world, the public was ordered to remain at home to slow the contagion while businesses were forced to close their doors. Amid the misery that ensued, a rare piece of good news spread about an unknown local entrepreneur donating 7mn som of his own money to help the needy.

Azhiyev did not wait long to clear up the intrigue. In a video clip posted on Instagram, he spoke of having distributed humanitarian aid to those in need in impoverished districts of Bishkek.

This drew a mixed response: gratitude from some and charges of devious reputation-laundering from others.

Evidently satisfied with the clamour he had created, Azhiyev kept up his posting, which grew ever more megalomaniacal in tone.

He dubbed himself a latter-day Achilles – an allusion to the ancient Greek mythic hero known for his strength and courage. Notwithstanding his unsavoury resume, he said he was helping the poor “for the sake of Allah.” As for his expensive Italian-made shirts, which he claimed were worth more than $3,000, he had earned those by being a “good person.”

For his haters he had only scorn. Many Kyrgyz men were just jealous of him and would readily have “cut off half their penis” to live as he did, Azhiyev once crowed. In his more intemperate outbursts, he directed his ire even wider.

“You, the Kyrgyz people, you’re a bunch of complete assholes, all six million of you,” he said in one particularly notorious video message. “What? To help people I am supposed to do everything by the [principles of Islam]? … All you losers, working for 15,000 som a month and you’re leaving me all these comments?!”

Azhiyev used his moment in the spotlight to settle more personal scores too. He alleged that a former friend, a member of the Bishkek city council, Temirlan Toktobekov, had borrowed $10,000 from him and then absconded.

This was a potent accusation. Toktobekov was no run-of-the-mill councilman. His father was a seasoned politician who had previously held high-ranking positions in the notoriously graft-ridden customs service. When Toktobekov came to marry, it was to the daughter of then-president Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Azhiyev claimed that he bankrolled Toktobekov’s parties and personally bribed voters on his behalf. In one startlingly profanity-laced invective against his erstwhile friend, Azhiyev appealed for solidarity from the public, arguing that he, like them, and unlike Toktobekov, understood the meaning of deprivation.

His words came at a cost. The police filed charges for “inciting ethnic hatred” – over Azhiyev’s unflattering remarks about his fellow Kyrgyz people.

He spent about six months, from March to October 2021, in a general population unit in pretrial detention. Azhiyev alleges he was routinely assaulted over that period and that he had toyed with the idea of suicide.

Following his complaints, he negotiated a transfer to solitary confinement, which turned out to be a far more comfortable arrangement. Indeed, he was able to send a bragging video message from his cell in which he swept his gold watch-bedecked hand over an array of luxuries.

“Strawberries, cutlets with wild onions, lightly salted salmon, grapes, apricots, I’ve been reading all kinds of books here, here is some fresh pomegranate, pineapple, vegetables, these nice big Arab figs, and ginger to build up my immunity,” he said in the video as he pointed to each item.

Reading matter included bestselling business writer Robert Greene’s books The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War.

This boastfulness may have embarrassed Azhiyev’s relatives, however, as they claimed publicly that he was mentally ill and then revealed he had been placed in a psychiatric clinic. 

In time, the criminal case was dropped and Azhiyev was released.

This whole interlude did not dampen Azhiyev’s love of attention. He once again began appearing in online live streams, in which he played computer games and told tales of his luxury lifestyle.

Azhiyev does not hide his family away either. His two young children, whom he does not spare his fondness for vulgar language, sometimes appear in the live streams. He once boasted of taking his mother out for a helicopter ride, and he showers his wife with gifts, including diamonds and a BMW automobile.  

In one of these streams, he insisted that he had not been involved in the webcam industry since 2018 and that he had since then turned to construction and cryptocurrency trading.

The GKNB does not appear to have taken him at his word.

In early June, Azhiyev was again placed under arrest.

The GKNB said it had earlier received a complaint from an individual who worked in a webcam studio belonging to Azhiyev. The complainant said they had been subjected to threats from the administrator of the webcam studio.

With this alleged report in hand, the GKNB raided three large webcam studios in which they found dozens of computers used to stream live sexual content. Investigators say the network of webcam operations involved hundreds of people and that the performers were also recruited from countries neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Azhiyev was detained in Uzbekistan, from where he was seeking to travel onward to the United Arab Emirates, and quickly extradited.

This arrest would not be an Azhiyev tale without a hint of the absurd, however.

Earlier this month, local media reported that Azhiyev had voluntarily transferred 44 million som ($500,000) into the state’s coffers. The payment was termed a “sponsorship contribution.”

At first blush, this looked a little similar to “kusturizatsiya” – a term that has entered the Kyrgyz lexicon since 2020 and describes the practice whereby corrupt officials, among others, hand over large cash payments in exchange for avoiding prosecutions. The term is formed from the Kyrgyz verb “kusturup” (puke), as in “to puke up money.”

The GKNB responded by issuing a statement to say no such payment had been made. The money was confiscated, they said.

Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.


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