Turkmenistan: Customers Pay Bribes to Withdraw Cash

The shortage of cash in circulation in Turkmenistan has led to a new under-the-counter service – cash withdrawals for cash. For five to ten manats (27-55 U.S. cents, according to the market rate) security guards and bank employees allow bank customers to withdraw as much cash from their own card accounts as they wish.

Sources in the western cities of Balkanabat and Turkmenbashi told Turkmen.news that police officers on security duty at the banks charge five manats to withdraw cash using a customer’s own card outside bank working hours. This is usually at night or the weekend. The police officers take the customers’ plastic cards and PIN codes, go into the bank and withdraw the money themselves from the ATMs.

In the past few years residents of Turkmenistan have experienced a severe shortage of cash. Gradually, over spring and summer 2016, the staff of all budget-funded organizations began to receive their wages via bank cards.

The decision was taken at government level in order to reduce the circulation of cash in the country. However, today, almost three years later, only a limited number of sales outlets take payment via plastic card. Transactions at the markets and in the shops are done in the old style – for hard cash.

There are not enough ATMs in the country, cash runs out quickly and staff are slow to refill machines. Turkmen.news has reported several times that the cash shortage is beginning to bite. Dozens of people form lines every day at the ATMs, despite the fact that the amount of withdrawal has increased markedly since August 2018.

The sources reported that in Balkan region people can now withdraw up to 700 manats at a time, although the limit used to be 400 manats.

In the northern city of Dashoguz and in Turkmenbashi, in at least two banks – Dayhan and Turkmenistan – the tellers themselves offer to withdraw an unlimited sum of cash for 10 manats. All that is required is a passport and bank card. Tellers withdraw money with the cards and take their share when they hand over the cash. This goes straight into their pockets. The tellers provide this service to several dozen people in a day, the sources said.

Turkmen students studying abroad are also having problems obtaining cash. This often leaves them in debt for their courses and accommodation and unable to pay for food. At present Turkmen students in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia can withdraw up to fifteen U.S. dollars in the local currency.