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Uzbekistan: South Korean Appointed To Serve As Uzbek Deputy Minister

A South Korean businessman has been appointed as Uzbekistan's deputy minister of light industry, despite a law apparently preventing foreigners from serving as public officials.

Prague, 1 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- South Korean citizen Kim Tae Bong has been appointed deputy head of the Uzbek State Association for the Production of Light Industrial Goods.

The association, which produces the vast majority of the country's textiles, serves as the equivalent of a Ministry of Light Industry.

Kim's appointment last month was decided despite a law stating that foreigners should not be hired as public officials.

Shavkat Kasimov is the head of the human resources department at the association.

"[Uzbek President Islam] Karimov himself signed the decree, so nobody had objections to it," Kasimov said. "He was appointed by the decision of the cabinet, so no one appealed this decision. And Islam [Karimov] is aware of his appointment."

Mirzaolim Ruzimatov works at Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry. He says that only Uzbek citizens can be appointed as ministers, while it is permitted for foreigners to serve as deputy ministers.

"If the situation requires it, if there is a need for it, if it benefits the Uzbek economy, then the appointment of a foreign citizen [as deputy minister] may fit to the law," he said. "But [it is true that] before, only a local citizen could be appointed to such a position."

Kim has been working in Uzbekistan as the head of the Uzbekistan office of South Korea's Kabool Textiles Company since 1995.

The South Korean newspaper "Chosun Ilbo" reports that Kim has succeeded in attracting some $50 million in foreign capital to Uzbekistan over the past two years. Karimov noticed Kim's achievements, the newspaper reports, which lead to his eventual appointment.

Ruzimatov added: "As the director of Kabool Textiles in Uzbekistan, [Kim] has proven to be a capable leader. Maybe that's why he was appointed to this position. Maybe his experience made him a suitable person for the position."

Kabool Textiles is the largest foreign player in Uzbekistan's textile industry, one of the Uzbek government's priority sectors. The company's investment in its four Uzbek mills totals more than $300 million.

(Khurmat Babadjanov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)