Accessibility links

Breaking News

Qishloq Ovozi

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent says it is taking allegations of a green card scam in Uzbekistan "extremely seriously."
If you are a resident of Samarkand Province and you are contacted by a representative of a company, which lately has been calling itself Global Intel, it is your lucky day. You might soon not be a resident of Samarkand, or Uzbekistan.

The Samarkand-based company has hit on an unethical and ingenious scheme.

Global Intel (the name has changed several times over the years), a computer technology company, offers clients the company's services in the U.S. Diversity Visa Program -- the chance to obtain a U.S. permanent residency or "green card." Company representatives contact people and tell them there is a fee for its assistance in obtaining a green card for them, but it is payable only if an application is approved.

The best part, for Global Intel, is that these people have already been accepted to receive green cards, but they don't know it.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Ozodlik, has been contacted by people wanting to tell the story of this operation and Ozodlik has done some investigating to put this tale together.

Here is how it works.

America Bound

(NOTE: Given the nature of Uzbekistan's regime and of the topic, which could be seen to reflect badly on Uzbek government policy, none of the people who spoke with Ozodlik wished to be identified.)

One young man did some work for Global Intel. We'll call him "Ishchi" (the worker).

Ishchi said he, and others, have gone to places where the records and documents of Samarkand Province's residents are kept. Armed with memory (USB) sticks these people copy all the information they can about Samarkand residents onto the portable USB drives and head for Global Intel.

Ishchi said those bringing in memory sticks are paid 400 Uzbek som (about $0.18) per name on the stick. According to Ishchi, word has gotten out and now scores of people are trying to copy this personnel information and deliver it to Global Intel.

"Ikkinchi Ishchi" (second worker) told Ozodlik what happens next. Ikkinchi Ishchi worked at the company, one of a team of low-paid workers (about 1,000 som or $0.4 per hour) whose job it was to sift through the names on the USB sticks.

They look primarily for recent college applicants, concluding such people have money saved for school. Once strong candidates are identified their personal details are taken – date of birth, residence, education record, signatures, photographs -- and an application is filled out for a green card, in English and sent to the Diversity Visa Lottery site.

The company receives notification of acceptance, including the all-important winners' code number, and then sends its representative, contract in hand, to the unknowing winner with the offer to help them obtain a U.S. green card. The company's fee "if" they are accepted is said to be about $5,000. About a week or so later the representative contacts the client to inform him or her of the happy, albeit intentionally belated, news of an impending green card.
A copy of the green card agreement (click to enlarge)
A copy of the green card agreement (click to enlarge)

And the deal is: first the money, then the code, and no refunds if the interview at the U.S. Embassy doesn't go well. And also, don't mention Global Intel at the interview, which hardly anyone would do anyway, since they probably already suspect their sudden good fortune is probably the result of something not quite legal.

An official at the consular department at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent confirmed in 2012 that 63 percent of the green card winners came from Samarkand Province (and there are 12 provinces in Uzbekistan). Ozodlik's information indicates that ratio remains the same today.

Another young man, whom we will call him "Yangi Yankee" (New Yankee), is now in the United States. Ozodlik found him and he said he was surprised when he arrived in America and contacted the Uzbek Diaspora in his area, many of the other recently arrived Uzbeks were also from Samarkand Province.

Not surprisingly, the Samarkand-based company has extended its business into other provinces in Uzbekistan recently.

Diabolical, eh?

There's more.

Advanced Romance

Having learned the names of the successful applicants, the company's 1,000-som-per-hour employees, such as Ikkinchi Ishchi, refine their search and identify the unmarried young women who have been accepted for U.S. green cards.

Global Intel already has information on young unmarried men in the province. The company makes contact with an offer that, for a fee – this time $15,000 to $20,000 – they can get the names and addresses of America-bound, would-be brides so these bachelors can initiate a courting process that could see them married and living in the United States.

One of these suitors, we'll call him "Omadsiz" (the luckless) told this story to Ozodlik after he was spurned by his potential ticket-to-the-States, and lost his money. Over in the United States, Yangi Yankee said he knew of such deals.

According to accounts from these people and others, including an amazing friend of independent media who lives in Uzbekistan, the name of Global Intel's owner is Shakirjon Mukhtarov.

Ozodlik got in touch with Mukhtarov via Skype. Unaware the call was coming from RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, he started speaking to a person he believed to be an interested client. Mukhtarov did not want to go into details on Skype and invited the "client" to come to his office for a talk.

At this point the Ozodlik correspondent revealed themselves and the purpose of the call. Mukhtarov's memory and knowledge of his company suddenly failed. His office machinery similarly seemed to fail since it was impossible for any of Ozodlik's employees to make contact with him again.

Ozodlik contacted the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, which oversees the Diversity Visa about the scheme.

An official there said that the United States takes such allegations "extremely seriously." The Consular Department is aware of green card scams worldwide. The official noted that information posted on U.S. Embassy websites around the world warns against offers or claims of winning a green card in some sort of lottery, or of using "any third-party facilitator" to get a green card.

The official also said the accusations Samarkand residents made to Ozodlik would be checked and measures taken to tighten the screening process.

The Samarkand scam is brilliant in some ways. Everyone gets what they want seemingly. Soon-to-be former residents of Uzbekistan, overjoyed with their good news, happily hand over money to the company, which happily takes it.

The only crime apparently being committed is the amazingly large-scale identity theft that fuels the company's business. Those rejected for a green card never know about it.

But there are losers -- the many people who do apply for U.S. green cards legitimately and without help from a company that presumably has learned a few things after filling out thousands of application forms.

-- Bruce Pannier

Central Asia is known for many reasons but two things stand out in coverage of the region these days -- the geostrategic location in terms of security and its energy resources.

Coverage of Central Asia’s energy resources almost always features adjectives such as “vast,” “huge,” and “massive.”

Central Asia has oil and natural gas, Kazakhstan is the world’s leading uranium producer (more than 20,000 tons in 2013), much has been made of the hydropower potential in the southeastern mountains, and then there is the great promise of developing solar power in the south and wind power in the northern steppe.

So why is coal such a rapidly developing source of power domestically?

The reasons vary from country to country, and while some reasons are perhaps understandable, other reasons are the result of failed inter-regional politics and policies that prioritize exports over domestic needs.

But first, how “massive” is Central Asia’s energy potential?

For the purpose of comparison, I’m choosing France, despite far greater industrialization, because its population is roughly the same as that of Central Asia (if the 4-8 million Central Asian migrant laborers were back home). That would be, some 66 million people. *

My sources are the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the BP statistical review of world energy from June 2013, so if you disagree with these figures send your hate mail to them, not to me. And I know most people don’t like a lot of numbers, so I’ll keep this brief.

Mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are Central Asia’s hydropower kings. They have an estimated combined potential, barely tapped, to generate some 460 billion kWh of electricity per year. France uses about 500 billion kWh annually.

Kazakhstan has the lion’s share of Central Asia’s oil reserves but combined with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan they have about 37 billion barrels of oil. France consumes about 1.7 million barrels per day.

Turkmenistan has the bulk of natural gas but combined with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan they have some 19.9 trillion cubic meters of gas. France uses some 43 billion cubic meters annually.

And for what it’s worth, the Uzbek government website says the country has solar power potential to generate as much energy as some 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

So there seems to be enough to go around for the people of Central Asia.

Okay, so why is coal production/consumption rising in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan?

The easy explanation is there is a lot of coal in Central Asia and it fed Soviet-era thermal power plants across the region except in Turkmenistan, which uses almost exclusively natural gas for its power. Many of those plants, which in some cases date back to the 1950s and 1960s, are still operating today.

Kazakhstan is the most interesting -- to me anyway. Called the “oil baron” of Central Asia, at least 64 percent, and by some estimates nearly 80 percent, of Kazakhstan’s electricity is produced by coal-fired plants.

The “massive” Ekibastuz coalfield in northern Kazakhstan has an estimated 13 billion tons of coal, and together with the country’s other coal deposits, give Kazakhstan about 4 percent of the world’s coal.

Kazakhstan’s industrial northeast and the Almaty commercial hub of the country in the southeast are far from the oil and gas fields of western Kazakhstan. Oil and gas are starting to make their way eastward, in large part due to newly constructed pipelines that continue on to China.

But it’s not enough to fill the needs of eastern Kazakhstan, where most of the country’s people live.

The Ekibastuz-1 and Ekibatus-2 thermal plants provide power to the capital Astana and industrial cities such as Pavlodar, Karaganda, and Ekibastuz.

Work has started on a new thermal plant near the shore of Lake Balkhash. Once completed it will help supply electricity south to the Almaty area. The Balkhash plant is a compromise, substituting for a planned nuclear power plant at Balkhash that was scrapped after a public outcry.

Kazakhstan’s coal consumption rose from some 87 million tons in 2008 to some 94.5 million tons by 2012.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have the same reason for increasing their coal production and consumption: they are tired of purchasing gas from neighboring Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has repeatedly cut off gas to the two neighbors, sometimes for debts the two countries regularly incur, and sometimes to show displeasure with political decisions in Bishkek and Dushanbe.

Tajik MPs Mahmadsharif Haqdodov and Haqnazar Boboev visited RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Ozodi, last September and said straight out the reason for switching to coal was the problem negotiating gas with Uzbekistan.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have deposits of coal, Tajikistan especially with 4.5 billion tons. The Tajik embassy website claims the country has coal reserves “sufficient for about 200 years.”

Tajikistan announced in early 2013 that it was converting its plants and factories to power from coal-fueled plants, and started upgrading existing thermal power plants, such as the one in Dushanbe. As of July last year the government claimed all the country’s major enterprises were using coal for power.

Between 2008 and 2011, Tajikistan’s coal consumption was almost static at around 230,000 to 235,000 tons. In 2013, Tajikistan produced 518,000 tons of coal.

Kyrgyzstan has followed Tajikistan’s lead.

Kyrgyzstan consumed 1.1 million tons of coal in 2008 and in 2011 (last EIA figure available) used some 1.55 million tons, a good portion of it imported from Kazakhstan. In 2013, Kyrgyzstan produced some 1.425 million tons of coal, which still leaves the country short by about 500,000 tons of being able to fuel thermal plants in the northern part of the country.

Uzbekistan is a mystery. Just over a decade ago gas was so cheap and so plentiful that when I asked a friend in the Tashkent area one day why he left his gas stove burning he told me “gas is cheap but it’s hard to find matches.”

Gas is scarce now for some reason (Uzbekistan has some 1.1 trillion cubic meters of gas), and Uzbekistan is also increasing production and consumption of coal. Coal consumption was actually going down from nearly 3.9 million tons in 2008 to 3.2 million tons in 2012.

That has changed quickly. Last November the first stage of the Angren coal production complex project was completed. Production is expected to double at the huge open-pit mining site and reach 6.4 million tons annually. Of that, some 4.6 million tons will be used as fuel in the Novo-Angren thermal power plant.

Uzbek officials said the additional power from the Angren plant would free up some 800 million cubic meters of gas annually, which apparently hasn't started yet judging from recent reports of gas shortages in Uzbekistan.

State plans call for raising the share of coal in Uzbekistan’s fuel balance from the current 3.9 percent to 11 to 12 percent by 2016.

I guess they don’t show those pictures of Chinese cities on smoggy days.

Coal is certainly abundant and capable of filling the power needs of the Central Asian countries. But with all the options available, from cleaner burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, it is strange so much money (several billion dollars) is being invested into developing the coal industry.

This is due to the governments' policy of exporting lucrative energy resources to get the money and leaving their own people to depend on a cheaper and dirtier source of energy.

Coming soon: a look at Central Asian energy exports.

Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Iskander Aliyev and Soljida Dzhakhfarova of RFE/RL's Tajik Service, and Alisher Sidikov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service helped in preparing this report.
*Uzbekistan – 30 million, Kazakhstan – 17 million, Tajikistan – 8 million, Kyrgyzstan – 5.75 million, and Turkmenistan – 5 million

Load more

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.



Majlis Podcast: The Role Of Women In Central Asian Governments
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:37:22 0:00
Podcast: Majlis
Latest episode
Majlis Podcast: The Role Of Women In Central Asian Governments
Podcast: Majlis