A major scandal has erupted around the Uzbek-U.S. carmaking joint venture GM Uzbekistan.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, reports that GM Uzbekistan General Director Tohirjon Jalilov was detained on April 29 along with several other members of the company's management and finance department.
Prosecutors investigating alleged fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement by the leadership of the GM Uzbekistan car factory have extended their investigation to all business partners of GM Uzbekistan that delivered spare parts or provided other services to the company. Ulughbek Rozikulov, an Uzbek deputy prime minister who also chairs a domestic automobile-industry association, was also questioned by prosecutors, and a number of senior GM Uzbekistan executives (including the GM Uzbekistan director-general) remain in detention. The factory has suspended production while the investigation continues.
Ozodlik learned that Jalilov is suspected of participation in an alleged scam in which GM Uzbekistan vehicles meant for export to Russia never made it farther than Shymkent, Kazakhstan, just across the border from Uzbekistan. Investigators believe the vehicles reportedly sat idle for some time before being "re-exported" back to Uzbekistan. According to the website Eltuz.com, there are some 10,000 GM Uzbekistan vehicles in Shymkent parking lots.
GM Uzbekistan sells vehicles to Russia at less than half the price the cars and trucks sell for in Uzbekistan -- about $6,400 in Russia but as high as $18,000 in Uzbekistan.
The accusation is that the automobiles were returned to Uzbekistan, where they were sold at the Uzbekistan price, with executives pocketing the difference in price.
The scheme was said to have been uncovered by Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Ozodlik reported that Karimov made an official visit to Russia on April 25-26 and, during his time there, he discovered there were delays in the shipment of GM Uzbekistan vehicles to Russia. After his return to Uzbekistan, Ozodlik reported, Karimov couldn't get satisfactory answers about proceeds from auto exports to Russia and therefore ordered an investigation.
Among more than 10 people detained since Jalilov was taken into custody are Jalilov’s son, two directors of the GM Uzbekistan finance department, and several people involved in the export of GM Uzbekistan cars to Voronezh, Russia. There are warrants out for the arrest of two members of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service who are suspected of having helped cover up the illegal business.
There is also the matter of who else might be involved in Uzavtosanoat, the company that controls Uzbekistan’s 75 percent stake in GM Uzbekistan. Besides Jalilov, other chairmen of Uzavtosanoat are Finance Minister Rustam Azimov and Deputy Prime Minister Ruzikulov, the latter of whom oversees vehicle construction in Uzbekistan.
GM Uzbekistan was formed in 2008, taking over the operations of UzDaewooAvto, a South Korean-Uzbek venture. U.S. carmaking giant GM controls 25 percent of GM Uzbekistan, and Uzavtosanoat controls the remaining 75 percent.