Tagirov Salavat also known as the “Chinaman”, the “Russian” or the “Kazakh”, and a geologist by profession, is alleged to be the author behind a network of illegal gold mining productions in Choco, Colombia’s province with the highest rate of illegal and informal mining.
While investigating the geologist, police found that Salavat in fact appeared in official records with an existing mining title.
According to previous reports from locals in the municipalities of Condoto and Novita, Salavat was given the title without having to go through the formal, bureaucratic process, which meant that his name was possibly already under investigation. The National Mining Agency would have reportedly suspended the title if they had known.
The alleged illegal miner was tipped off to the police by local farm owners in Choco, who warned that there was an active organization, led by Salavat, ploughing their way through private land, illegally extracting gold.
According to El Tiempo newspaper, dozens of miners testified that the machines they were using to extract gold from farms, whose owners were forcibly displaced, belonged to the Kazakhstani national.
Other testimonies are also reported to link the illicit mining production with the infamous “Rastrojos” drug trafficking gang that exports cocaine off Colombia’s Pacific coast. According to police, the gang was hired to intimidate farm owners off their land.
According to insider information from El Tiempo, the criminal gang was also thought to be stopping the National Hydrocarbons Agency from possible oil extraction in the area.
The rural police force, who specialize in maintaining public order and preventing terrorist threats in rural areas, have prioritized the criminal proceedings due to the gravity of the case.
In August, two of Salazat’s alleged accomplices, “Pacho” and “Ñato,” were arrested after they were found to be carrying false documents claiming to be a public accountant and Salazat’s administrator respectively.
Pacho had allegedly been attempting to scam the National Agency of Hydrocarbons by demanding over $4 million in compensation for allegedly causing damage in their attempted excavation of oil. According to locals, this excavation never materialized thanks to the Rastrojos gang.
In 2015 the police force, who have been leading the fight against illegal mining, have allegedly tripled their operations as Santos has claimed that it is a great concern.
Between January and July, the Prosecutor General along with the military and the police have sabotaged 1,397 mines across Colombia, both extracting gold and other raw materials, 1,633 people have been arrested, and 132 kilos of mercury have been seized along with 202 mining machines.
The levels of deforestation and environmental damage behind the illegal industry are also massive, with 16,784 hectares of forest demolished in 2014 for mining purposes.