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Tajikistan: Politicians And Their Friends Make Up Much Of '100 Richest' List

Hoji-Akbar Turajonzoda says he makes about $200,000 from his private company (file photo) (RFE/RL) Cabinet ministers, government officials, and members of parliament dominate an unofficial list of the "100 Richest Tajiks" published recently by the independent news agency Avesta.

Like "Forbes" magazine's famous list of the richest people in the world, the Avesta list gives the names and positions of the wealthy Tajiks, which includes just one woman. But unlike "Forbes," the Tajik rich list does not cite the total fortune that each of the wealthiest Tajiks is said to possess.

Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, where the average monthly salary is around $35 a month and government ministers officially earn up to $100 monthly.

According to Avesta, rich people in Tajikistan do not officially disclose their assets in order to avoid paying taxes. This makes it impossible to know exactly how big their financial fortunes are. So Tajikistan's list of the 100 richest people is alphabetical.

Avesta news agency wrote in introducing the list that its list of wealthy Tajiks is based on the quantity and prices of the people's houses, cars, businesses and other assets, as well as the frequency with which they appear in expensive restaurants. Avesta said the list does not include wealthy Tajiks living abroad or those who made their fortunes in drug-related activities.

Several former Islamic and democratic opposition figures, including Mahmadruzi Iskandarov and Mirzo Ziyoev, made the list. So did several former commanders of the former People's Front, such as Yakub Salimov and Ghaffor Mirzoev, which fought against the opposition in the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

The four men rose to their high official positions after the national reconciliation in 1997 that ended the war, after amassing vast fortunes. All of them except Ziyoev eventually ended up in prison after falling out of favor with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

'Thank God, I Must Be Rich'

Hoji-Akbar Turajonzoda, a parliamentary deputy and a prominent member of the Islamic opposition, is also on the list. Turajonzoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that, unlike many others, he does not hide the fact he has other sources of income beyond his official salary.

"If you're talking about the money, I don't have $1 million in cash," he says. "Well, I own a cotton mill, which is very expensive. I bought this factory for $100,000 a long time ago. I don't know how much would it cost now. I have a nice house in my village. I bought two apartments in Dushanbe during the Soviet times, but I gave them to my sons. If these things are considered huge wealth -- well then, thank God, I must be rich."

Turajonzoda said he makes around $200,000 annually from his private company.

Many other rich Tajiks -- or so-called "New Tajiks" -- are very reluctant to publicly acknowledge their wealth simply because many of them do not officially run or own a private business. Most are supposed to be making ends meet with the modest salaries they earn as government officials, diplomats, and lawmakers.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov has also made the list of the richest Tajiks. He once said that all of his "employees live on a humble salary they get from the government and none of them is involved in any other business activities outside of their official jobs."

When asked, Bobokhonov said the many expensive cars parked outside the Prosecutor-General's Office are "gifts my colleagues' received from their relatives."

"It's impossible," he says, "to buy expensive, foreign-made cars with our salaries. We have made it clear that if our employees get involved in other business activities they can no longer work for the Prosecutor-General's Office."

Corruption Endemic

Olim Boboev, the leader of the Economic Reforms Party, said most government officials and their friends and relatives have privatized the majority of government-owned enterprises, paying symbolic prices in acquiring them.

Many ordinary Tajiks are not surprised that government officials, police, and judiciary workers are wealthy because they are notorious for exploiting their official positions and extorting bribes from people in a country where corruption is endemic.

A survey conducted in Tajikistan in 2007 by the United Nations Development Program and the Tajik Strategic Research Center concluded that corruption and bribery are "the key problem for the country, for the national government, for everyday life, and for the human environment." It added that corruption slows reforms and leads to the "moral degradation of the society."

Apart from those who occupy high government posts -- including President Rahmon, Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, as well as the heads of both chambers of parliament -- there are also a number of former ministers and deputy ministers on the list of richest Tajiks. Friends and relatives of these people are also on the list.

Along with politicians and a few businesspeople, three famous singers are also on the rich list, including the lone woman -- 27-year-old singer Shabnami Surayo.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.