DUSHANBE -- A Tajik government official who also is the son-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon has denied having any links to a private firm that collects tolls on a major road in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Deputy Finance Minister Jamoliddin Nuraliev also told RFE/RL on July 9 that the Finance Ministry does not provide any funds for activities in Tajikistan by Innovative Road Solutions, the company in charge of the country's only toll road.
Nuraliev also said a government commission that recently audited the activities of the company did not find anything illegal.
Deutsche Welle had reported that Innovative Road Solutions was registered in the British Virgin Islands by a person named Jamoliddin Nuraliev.
Amonulloh Ashur, the head of Tajikistan's Antimonopoly Committee and a critic of the toll road, told RFE/RL it didn't matter who owns the firm. He said what was important is that the company has not coordinated its pricing policy with the Antimonopoly Committee.
The now 410-kilometer toll road from Dushanbe to Chanak links Tajikistan's capital with Uzbekistan through the northern province of Sughd.
The highway was recently upgraded by Chinese companies and paid for with a $280 million loan from China. The Tajik government decided that in order to repay the loan to China, a toll would be collected for using the road starting on April 1.
Residents of the Varzob district just outside Dushanbe have protested strongly against the toll, and sent a 10,000-signature petition to Rahmon urging him to eliminate the levies.
In April, small cars and minibuses paid 30 dirams ($.07) for every kilometer driven on the highway. Vehicles up to 7 tons had to pay 60 dirams, while larger vehicles paid 1.5 somonis ($.35) per kilometer.
In May, Innovative Road Solutions cut their prices, with small cars and minibuses paying 10 dirams per kilometer. But Tajiks have continued to call for the abolition of the toll.
Tajik economist Hojimuhammad Umarov told RFE/RL that the firm's registration in the British Virgin Islands makes it difficult to follow its activities. Umarov said he didn't understand why parliament exempted the firm from paying more than a dozen different taxes.
Other analysts have suggested that the company was given favorable conditions because of close relations between the company's owners and high-ranking Tajik officials.
In April, Tajik Communication and Transport Minister Olim Boboev rejected that criticism, saying the company had won a tender for the work fairly. But the firm's technical director, Rustam Abdulloev, recently said no tender was held for the contract to operate the toll road.
Abdulloev also said the government gave concessions to his firm and that control of the highway would be returned to the government after an unspecified number of years.