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Big Business In Uzbekistan Targeted In Wave Of Arrests

The crackdown appears to have its origins in a speech by Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
The crackdown appears to have its origins in a speech by Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
By Bruce Pannier
Some of the wealthiest people in Uzbekistan have reportedly been arrested or detained this week, or are being hunted down by Uzbek authorities.

They include the president of one of Tashkent's premier football clubs, the owner of the country's largest wholesale market, construction magnates, and bankers, according to media reports. Others with ties to big business have reportedly fled the country.

The crackdown appears to have its origins in a speech President Islam Karimov gave in December. According to the website UzMetronom, the president said the authorities would not accept material inequality. "There will be no oligarchs in our country. If anyone has yet to understand this, they should bear it in mind," the website quotes Karimov as saying.

Uzbek officials are portraying this campaign as sort of an anticorruption drive in a country that rarely allows its "dirty laundry" to be aired in public, but some sources believe there is more going on than officials are saying.

The country's media isolation makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is happening. Reports refer to financial crimes having been committed but details are sketchy.

An official in the Uzbek government, however, speaking under condition of anonymity, confirmed reports that some of the country's leading business officials are being investigated and that some have been arrested. But the official denied business elites in general are being targeted, just criminals.

'Events Are Alarming'

Galima Bukharbaeva is a journalist who has covered events in Uzbekistan for many years. She tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service the reported arrests show that even those among the wealthy who thought they were immune to prosecution are fair game.

"The events are alarming and at the same time closed off [to publicity]," Bukharbaeva says. "Taken together, these rumors and unconfirmed information about a wave of arrests going on among the big businessmen of Uzbekistan shows that no one in Uzbekistan is 100 percent protected."

Independent websites that report about Uzbekistan, including uzmetronom.com, uznews.net, and ferghana.ru have named names. According to the reports, Dmitry Lim, owner of the Karavan Bazaar, Uzbekistan's largest wholesale market, was detained along with more than 50 high-ranking employees of the market. Alik Nurutdinov, who heads the Bekabad cement factory, has reportedly been detained. Also detained are Batyr Rakhimov, businessman and president of one of Tashkent's premier football clubs (Pakhtakor). His brother Bakhtiyor Rakhimov is also wanted but reportedly fled the country on learning about Batyr's arrest. Also reportedly on the run are Alp Jamol-Bank owner Mukhiddin Asomiddinov and Kyzylkumtsement Works director Rajabbai Jumanazarov. One of the two Uzbek owners of the Swiss-registered company Zeromax, which is involved in Uzbekistan's oil and gas industry, have reportedly also been brought in for questioning.

Media outlets that cover Uzbekistan abound with theories on the reasons behind the crackdown.

Aleskei Volosevich of ferghana.ru says it could simply be that the state needs money.

"Generally, the people talking about these [arrests] believe that the state coffers are empty and because the state coffers are empty the authorities are forced to find new means of generating revenue," Volosevich says. "And these means are well known -- take over an established and successful business or threaten legal action to get the rich to put huge amounts of money into state coffers."

Gulnara Karimova, eldest daughter of the Uzbek president
Deeper Investigation?


Sergei Ezhkov of uzmetronom.com says this wave of arrests and detentions could be the start of a deeper investigation targeting people much higher up.

"Those who are wanted for money laundering or avoiding paying taxes or having ties to corruption, they are needed as sources of information to get at those corrupt people at the top," he says.

Of possible significance is that some of the enterprises apparently being checked into belong to Zemlikhan Khaidarov, a shadowy figure who has been the head of Uzbekistan's presidential apparatus since 1993, a tenure practically unrivaled in Uzbek politics.

Under one line of thinking, the crackdown could be connected to the president's daughters. Such reports say Gulnara and Lola are furthering their business interests in Uzbekistan and possibly eliminating obstacles to any succession process that would follow when their father is no longer the country's leader.

Ezhkov suggests that Uzbek authorities could be clearing out the old guard to make way for a new generation that would remain loyal to the Karimov family.

"If you have noticed, lately the president is giving posts to the younger generation -- that is, to people who are younger than 40 or just a bit older than 40," Ezhkov says. "So there is a change in generation under way in the government. And because of this, those who have been sitting here and filling their pockets -- namely, those with ties to corruption -- cannot take out the young people. There's a purge going on and this purge is centered in the economic field. And the goal is not to wipe out business but to get rid of those with ties to corruption."

Zamira Eshanova of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Turgai from: Eurasia
March 12, 2010 16:53
"Under one line of thinking, the crackdown could be connected to the president's daughters. Such reports say Gulnara and Lola are furthering their business interests in Uzbekistan and possibly eliminating obstacles to any succession process that would follow when their father is no longer the country's leader."

That is most probable, much more than 'corruption charges' or populist anti-oligarch stances or whatever. If they say that behind great men stand great women it's also true that behind many evil men stand evil women: Karimov, Milosevic, Ceaucesu, ...

by: Johann from: USA
March 12, 2010 22:53
Rule of law should be the norm ( Not Anarchy)
If people are criminals, they should be investigated and arrested if charges are true.
Money laundering and other business crimes by the rich should not be tolerated.
Ir is very childish to believe that the daughters of the President are behind this.
People are quick to clam that criminals are innocent, and charges are politically motivated by some evil governments.
Also in the western world are people, that think that criminals should be left alone by authorities.
Have people forgotten Germany 1933, and later Italy, Spain and Romania where criminals took over the government, sometimes with the support of the more ignorant part of the population.
We cann't let vandalism prevail, then our democracy is gone.
In Response

by: Turgai from: Eurasia
March 13, 2010 12:06
@Johann : blablabla. Obviously you are either a University of World Economy and Diplomacy kid ('our democracy') naive enough to think that people who are familiar with Uzbekistan tumble into this e-agitprop; or else someone who has never (really) been to Uzbekistan and does not know reality there. So in that case it is better to shut up.
In Response

by: Ulugbek
March 15, 2010 10:46
I don't know if Gulnara is behind this but she will certainly find some way to profit from it. Perhaps a well-timed offer to buy a business (for a tenth of its value) while its owner sits.

by: Jorjo from: Florida, US
March 12, 2010 23:21
Gulnara is hot, isn't she? Great looking, fantastic shape, Harvard graduate, black belt in karate, what's not to like?
In Response

by: Turgai from: Eurasia
March 13, 2010 12:10
@Jorjo: hmmm well I agree that she wouldn't score badly as a calendar babe for a trailer audience. In other words: the utlimate loser phantasm. Which is probably why she manages to wind all these foreign diplotwats around her finger. :))))

As for her Harvard credentials: that says indeed much more about Harvard (or at least certain personalities there... ) than about Karimova.

by: Johann from: USA
March 13, 2010 17:15
Hi Turgai
My education her in USA is this
A few classes of American History from University of Minnesota.
4 semisters of advanced Swedish from same University.
A few classes from Culinary Arts program of St.Paul College in Minnesoita, icluting a A grade in Nutrition.
Workexpderience inclutes, a work as a sailor on Mississippi and Ohio rivers

Stop judging people and put out some facts.
Smart popele love facts, the stupid one don't.
In Response

by: Turgai from: Eurasia
March 14, 2010 13:11
Very impressive yet what counts for me (and others too I presume) is what your experience with reality in Uzbekistan is. The facts, remember? ;)

by: Johann from: USA
March 15, 2010 17:11
I have a bumper sticker on my (unAmerican) car Honda:
AMERICA LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT
I ( I am a immigrant), think that people that hate this country (AMERICA), should just leave this country.
Either you love something or somebody, or not.
Same about Uzbekistan. You either love it or leave it.
You could say the same thing about: Russia, Sweden, Germany, and so on.
I was just checking out flights to Dubai International airport.
There I found out that I can fly from Frankfurt airport ( in Germany where some of my ancestors came from) to Dubai with the private Uzbekistan Airways, rater cheaply.
I also found out that the presidents younger daughter has a webb-page
www.lolakarimova.com ( it is registered in USA)
There you can also find out that Uzbekistan, celebrates, The International Woman's day and 22% of judges in Uzbeksitan are women.
What a God blessing, if Irak and Afghanistan would have a single female judge, and would stop stoning women, that wear shorts and show off their suntanned legs.
In Response

by: Turgai from: Eurasia
March 16, 2010 08:43
Are you saying -- even in public -- that you base your sympathy for the Uzbek regime on 'facts' consisting of flight timetables and a website of the president's daughter? :-) Your reaction is comical yet at the same time sad, since it shows that the regime's smokescreens and propaganda actually have impact among some.

Love it or leave it. As a matter of fact, in Uzbekistan one could bring out a bumper sticker saying 'leaving it despite loving it'. Tens of thousands of Uzbek men who love Uzbekistan and their families are compelled to leave them to scrape a living in Russia or elsewhere in Eurasia because of the complete lack of economic perspectives at home and because the regime stamps out all independent economic initiative.

What the timetables from Frankfurt/Dubai and Lola Karimova's site will not tell you about either, are the thousands political prisoners (most of them on fabricated charges) who languish in camps and torture cells, the sex traffic in Uzbek women and girls (to Dubai, amongst others so that people like you can have their good time), the child labour in the pesticide-poisoned cotton fields and the persecution and constant humiliation of Islam and the Uzbek Muslims (this, along with the Srebrenica massacre at the time, is indeed the wet dream of many Western Islamophobes).

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