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British Gold Company Says Uzbekistan Trying To Seize Its Assets

Canadian international lawyer Robert Amsterdam

Canadian international lawyer Robert Amsterdam

TASHKENT -- The British mining company Oxus Gold says the Uzbek government is attempting to seize its assets by forcing its joint venture to be liquidated, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer representing Oxus Gold, told RFE/RL on July 11 that the government is trying to seize 50 percent of Oxus's assets in the precious metal-extracting venture Amantaytau Goldfields on charges of "violating technology and environmental standards."

He dismissed the charges and said the company's environmental standards far exceed the legal standards in Uzbekistan.

Amsterdam said Oxus is going to take the Uzbek government to an international arbitration court if it does not cease its court case against the company.

He added that Uzbek officials have arrested Oxus's chief technician, Said Ashurov, on espionage charges.

Amsterdam called the allegations against Ashurov "outlandish" and "fabricated." He said the closed military trial of Ashurov began in Tashkent on July 11.

Amsterdam said Ashurov became seriously ill in police custody and that Oxus is concerned about his health and security.

On July 6, Amsterdam published an open letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov refuting Uzbekistan's charges against the company.

He said it was necessary to send the letter because in Uzbekistan "everything is controlled" by Karimov's office.

Amsterdam said this case represents a "resource nationalism attack" against Oxus, something that is common in many former Soviet countries.

He added that it is one in a series of attempts to seize foreign assets illegally in Uzbekistan and he said it is detrimental to the country's reputation.

Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer based in London, said Oxus is willing to go public with their case and inform other foreign investors about the case against it.

He said the strategy of seizing foreign assets in Uzbekistan goes in cycles, and has included similar attacks against Turkish, German, and South Korean companies in the past.

Amsterdam said Uzbekistan's treatment of the company has cost it more than $400 million.

Oxus has been operating in Uzbekistan's Kyzylkum region since the company was formed in 1996. It mines both gold and silver at three different sites.

Amsterdam was hired in 2003 by the Russian company Yukos to defend its CEO, Mikhail Khordorkovsky. He is a widely published analyst of Russian affairs.