After 12 years as one of the most trusted aides of Turkmenistan's mercurial president, speculation is rife as to why Aleksandr Dadaev suddenly left his influential post in Ashgabat.
Dadaev, who headed the powerful Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan, was an obvious favorite and trusted financial associate of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to the point of being referred to as the Turkmen president's "wallet."
Although Dadaev's union is not involved in Turkmenistan's sales of natural gas and oil, it is connected to more than half of the other products exported from Turkmenistan.
A sudden retirement in Turkmenistan by a top official often precedes news that the official has been arrested and charged with serious crimes.
And Dadaev, 72, announced his retirement on April 1, just two weeks after being reelected to another four-year term as head of the union.
Berdymukhammedov became Turkmenistan's leader at the end of 2006 after the death of the first Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov. In March 2008, Berdymukhammedov created the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and named Dadaev to head it.
It was a curious choice.
Niyazov had fired Dadaev as deputy mayor of Ashgabat in 2002 amid allegations of corruption.
The Path To Riches
Dadaev's fortunes took a sudden turn for the better after Niyazov's death, however.
According to a 2018 report from Hronika Turkmenistana, a website operated by Turkmen activists in exile, Dadaev received an enormous loan from the Central Bank in 2007, more than $10 million, at an amazing rate of 5 percent interest with a two-year grace period to expand his Gush Toplumy poultry farm.
Shortly after that, the Land Resource Service of the Agriculture Ministry allocated a 30-hectare plot for the poultry farm and 1,500 hectares of irrigated land in Akhal Province -- and 500 more hectares of land in Dashoguz Province -- to raise crops to feed the poultry.
The Energy and Industry Ministry then constructed an electricity and heating system for the poultry complex.
Since then, Gush Toplumy has provided poultry to most of the stores in Turkmenistan's cities, making Dadaev a very wealthy man.
Dadaev's fortunes rose yet again when he was made head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan in 2008.
In October 2010, the union established the Rysgal commercial bank, nominally a private bank. Most of the country's businesses reportedly have to obtain loans and credits from the Rysgal bank.
The union also has a newspaper called Rysgal and even its own political party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
Formed in 2012, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs was Turkmenistan's second registered political party, after the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which was previously the Communist Party of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkmenia during the Soviet era.
According to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Turkmenistan's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs now has some 24,180 members and is the main contractor for the state.
As an example, in February of this year, Berdymukhammedov allocated some $1.5 billion for the union to build a new capital city for Akhal Province.
Berdymukhammedov's son, Serdar, is the governor of Akhal Province.
Another exquisite example is the some $2.3 billion that was allocated for the union to construct a 600-kilometer, multilane highway between Ashgabat and the eastern city of Turkmenabat (formerly Charjou). Work on the highway was officially launched in January 2019 with the first aim of linking eastern Turkmenistan to the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi in the west.
Dadaev's union also handles the construction of high-rise apartment buildings, animal markets, parking lots, suburban cottages, and even a fish farm in Balkan Province.
Turning to sports, the union played a large role in raising funds for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted in September 2017 when the government found itself strapped for cash as the price for Turkmenistan's main export, natural gas, plunged and the country lost two of its three gas customers (first Russia, then Iran).
As the union's chief, Dadaev often traveled to Russia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries to try to broker deals on behalf of the union.
Sharing The Wealth
Dadaev's family also grew wealthy, of course, and his son, Vitaly, and brother, Aleksei, also head several large businesses in Turkmenistan.
And when it came time on March 17, 2020 -- the 12-year anniversary of the founding of the union -- to vote on a chairman for the union for 2020-2024, more than 600 business representatives met and reelected Dadaev.
Which is why it was so strange when the Board of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs met for a session on April 1 and announced they had accepted Dadaev's request to retire.
If Dadaev was planning on retiring, why did he not make that clear before the March 17 conference and allow representatives to elect someone new?
Dadaev's sudden retirement sparked rumors that Dadaev would soon be facing criminal charges and would have his immense wealth stripped away.
Such suspicions are fueled by the fate of Isgender Mulikov, who served as interior minister from 2009 until he was publicly humiliated and fired by Berdymukhammedov in October 2019.
He thereafter appeared on state television in December in handcuffs, confessing to have taken huge bribes and embezzled state money.
It was a familiar scenario that has played out on state television several times in recent years as the country's economy continued to worsen amid skyrocketing unemployment, shortages of basic goods, and rampant inflation.
Disgraced former top officials, who had served in high state posts for many years, have been paraded in front of state television cameras as Berdymukhammedov berated them and they meekly confessed to abusing their positions and illegally accumulating wealth and property.