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Tajikistan: Plot Thickens Around Banker's Disappearance

Hasan Sadulloev (official site) A month after the suspicious disappearance of wealthy banker Hasan Sadulloev -- the brother-in-law of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon -- Tajik state television claims to have aired recent footage of the missing man.

During a report covering Rahmon's trip to the eastern town of Roghun over the weekend, the television channel broadcast a video of a man it identified as Sadulloev, the 40-year-old head of Orienbank, apparently listening to Rahmon's speech.

Under normal circumstances, it would have been the usual footage of an important bank director accompanying the president on a domestic trip, as Sadulloev often did.

But Sadulloev's recent absence from the public eye has been surrounded by speculation that he was shot by President Rahmon's son, Sadulloev's nephew, in early May during an argument over control of Orienbank, one of the largest financial institutions in Tajikistan.

Regional websites reported that Sadulloev died from his wounds, while some local media suggested that he was flown to hospital in Germany and has been recovering there.

Orienbank officials have maintained from the beginning of his disappearance that their boss is "alive and well," despite the fact that the well-known business mogul has not been seen in public since the alleged shooting incident.

The TV footage was followed by a short report from the state-run Khovar news agency that Sadulloev has been outside of Tajikistan on business trips for the past three weeks. It did not give any details of the purported meetings and it was unclear where Sadulloev was traveling.

Public Mistrust

It seems that neither the video footage nor the news agency report has succeeded in convincing the public that nothing has happened to Sadulloev.

Shokirjon Hakimov, a politician and department head at the Tajik Institute of International Relations in Dushanbe, tells RFE/RL that "the indistinct footage and report have actually fueled more suspicion and mistrust among the public."

"The conduct that Hasan Sadulloev's press office has chosen is not compatible with modern society's demands," Hakimov says. "Besides, it's not benefiting them either, because now other news sources have taken the initiative, and, as a result, many secrets about the president's relatives have been made public. Of course, some of that information might be baseless."

Hakimov says that in the face of multiplying rumors, Sadulloev -- if he is indeed alive and well -- should have made at least one public appearance.

Many ordinary Tajiks agree that Sadulloev would be expected to appear in public to end the wild stories about him and the president's family, which are certainly hurting their reputations. Instead, state television recently invited a cleric on air who tried to convince viewers that Sadulloev is safe and sound.

Despite the burning interest among the public to know what really happened within the first family, journalists in Tajikistan have not dared to ask the president about it. Although there have been several public meetings with Rahmon since Sadulloev's disappearance, not one reporter present has used the opportunity to query the president about the issue.

Seeing Double

The secrecy within the presidential family and the great difficulty in obtaining information has prompted another rumor about Sadulloev and his alleged television appearance. Some Tajik journalists and officials reportedly say that a person who bears a striking resemblance to Sadulloev has appeared at some government meetings lately, although "he sits far from the others surrounded by bodyguards and does not speak at all," according to one report.

And they strongly suspect that the man might be Hasan Sadulloev's identical twin brother, Hussein, who must be filling in for the banker while he is receiving treatment for his wounds.

In Tajik culture, Hasan is the name traditionally given to one of a pair of twin boys.

Allegations that Sadulloev's twin brother Hussein is appearing as Hasan could not be confirmed by official sources.

Hakimov criticized authorities for what he called "withholding information from the public and manipulating it." "Even if something very bad happened inside the first family, it would be much better for the president's reputation if it was admitted openly and clearly," he said.

In the past, Tajikistan's independent media, such as the weekly "Charoghi ruz," have reported alleged disagreements within the presidential family over power and money. Some reports claim that Rahmon's family has been wary of Sadulloev's growing influence both in financial and political circles.

Sadulloev, whose sister is married to the president, rose in a relatively short period from his job as a village gas-station attendant to become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

According to reports, Sadulloev's business empire includes some 13 ventures in Tajikistan, including five cotton mills, several factories, and at least three food-processing companies. His business dealing also include real-estate developments, transport, media, insurance companies, and banking.

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.

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