Uzbek police have detained a former deputy head of the country’s National Security Service, the latest in a series of high-profile arrests of senior law enforcement officials, Tashkent sources say.
Hayot Sharifkhojaev was detained in a special raid on March 30, a police officer who took part in the operation told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service on April 2.
Sharifkhojaev's detention was confirmed to RFE/RL by a separate source, an investigator at the Prosecutor-General's Office.
Both sources requested anonymity, saying they are not authorized to speak to the media. Each official said separately that Sharifkhojaev is being held in a police detention center in Tashkent.
Police also conducted a search of a Sharifkhojaev’s house in Tashkent’s Mirzo Ulughbek district, the sources said.
A separate search took place in the apartment of Sharifkhojaev’s former wife in the city’s Beshoghoch area, they added.
There was no official statement on the alleged arrest in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.
Uzbekistan has arrested several former senior law enforcement agency officials -- including a former top prosecutor and an ex-interior minister -- in recent months after President Shavkat Mirziyoev repeatedly accused state institutions of corruption and exceeding their authority.
According to the sources in Tashkent, Sharifkhojaev’s alleged detention is linked to a criminal probe against former Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov, who was arrested on February 22 on charges including bribery and abuse of office.
How It All Began
Qodirov’s arrest opened a Pandora's box, leading to the detention of dozens of officials, including security service officers, regional prosecutors, and tax officials across the country.
Some 25 officials were arrested just in one day, on March 20, in the capital, Tashkent, in connection with Qodirov’s case, the sources told RFE/RL.
Some of them were questioned and eventually released, while others remain in custody, they said, without giving further details.
Shortly after Qodirov’s arrest, police detained the former deputy prosecutor of Tashkent, Miraghlam Mirzoev, along with his wife and son, who both worked in law enforcement.
The official website of the Prosecutor-General’s Office announced that the three were under investigation in “connection to the criminal case against Qodirov.”
Mirziyoev has publicly said that the former chief prosecutor was arrested for taking bribes from regional prosecutors.
“Why was the former top prosecutor arrested?! Because they were all thieves,” Mirziyoev said in a speech in Samarkand on March 17.
“Now, the detained district prosecutors are telling…how much in bribes they paid to the former chief prosecutor. In Samarkand, too, prosecutors of seven districts would give him bribes every month, $2,000 every single month,” he said.
The president said district prosecutors would pay tens of thousands of dollars to Qodirov to “buy” their positions.
Sharifkhojaev’s Previous Case
Sharifkhojaev worked in Uzbekistan’s once powerful security apparatus until early 2015.
If the claims of his arrest are confirmed, it would be the second time Sharifkhojaev was detained and will face criminal charges.
Sharifkhojaev was first arrested in 2015 and charged with corruption and misappropriation of public funds. He was freed later that year, but the circumstances and the exact dates of his arrest and subsequent release remain unknown.
In the same year, Sharifkhojaev’s younger brother, Javdat -- who also worked within the security service -- was found guilty of illegal entrepreneurship, corruption, extortion, and appropriation of large amounts of public money.
Javdat Sharifkhojaev was subsequently sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The Sharifkhojaev brothers were allegedly involved in the Uzbek authorities’ high-profile probe against Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of late President Islam Karimov.
In an interview with Turkey's Hurriet Daily News in 2013, Karimova claimed that the Sharifkhojaev brothers were involved in corruption.
Karimova, 45, who was once a high-profile socialite, pop singer, fashion designer, and diplomat, is in state custody.
In 2017, Uzbek authorities said Karimova had been sentenced to five years of “restricted freedom” in 2015 after being convicted of crimes including extortion, embezzlement, and tax evasion.
Mirziyoev -- who succeeded the long-ruling Karimov after his death in 2016 -- has been shaking up several government structures, in particular the security service, the most-feared state institution under his predecessor.
On March 14, Mirziyoev changed the name of the agency from the National Security Service to the State Security Service.
The president once compared the agency’s practices with those of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's NKVD during the Great Terror in 1937-38.
In a February speech, the president called some security officials “mad dogs” and accused them of torture and of targeting successful businessmen.
In late January, Mirziyoev dismissed General Rustam Inoyatov, who led Uzbekistan's security service for almost 23 years.