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Controversial Tajik Tycoon Falls From Grace

Once a high-flyer, Tajik businessman Zayd Saidov's life has unraveled with startling rapidity. (file photo)
Once a high-flyer, Tajik businessman Zayd Saidov's life has unraveled with startling rapidity. (file photo)
Nobody ever accused Zayd Saidov of being perfect, but nobody envisioned the influential Tajik tycoon's rapid fall from grace either.

For years the 55-year-old Saidov enjoyed cozy relations with Tajikistan's ruling elite, even rising to the post of industry minister. He presided over a vast business empire involved in construction, textiles, jewelry, and real estate. And he was long seen as an opposition figure who worked well with President Emomali Rahmon.

But after he announced his intention to set up the New Tajikistan party this spring -- just months before a carefully managed presidential election -- Saidov's world unraveled.

After he went public with his plans for the new, unregistered, opposition party in March, he was arrested in Dushanbe in May and charged with multiple crimes.

On December 25, Saidov was sentenced to 26 years' imprisonment after being convicted of financial fraud, polygamy, and sexual relations with a minor.

Saidov's supporters say the case against him was politically motivated.

Daler Ghufronov, the editor-in-chief of "Elita," a magazine that focuses on prominent Tajik personalities, believes there can be no doubt that the authorities saw Saidov as a threat.

"Saidov wanted reforms but the government is not ready for reforms, so authorities opted for an easy way out: to eliminate reformists," he says. " In my opinion, this is the main reason behind Saidov's arrest."

Rumors Of Infidelity

For others, however, that would be the convenient conclusion to reach when it comes to the high-profile figure who was no stranger to controversy.

His home life invited scrutiny, and prompted whispers of infidelity.

Among the charges faced by Saidov, who was born without one arm, was that he raped an underage girl and fathered a child with her. Court-ordered DNA tests proved no links between Saidov and the child.

Prosecutors also accused Saidov of simultaneously living with four wives and 10 children that he fathered with them.

Saidov has said he has one legal wife but provides material support for at least two former wives and their children.

The Anticorruption Agency says Saidov's construction firm -- which is involved in high-profile projects in the capital, Dusanbe, -- stole more than $8 million from the state. Revenue authorities say Saidov's construction business owes more than $5 million in unpaid taxes.

So is Saidov an opposition figure who had become too much of a threat to the powers that be?

Not really, according to Dushanbe-based political analyst and author Parviz Mullojonov.

"Saidov has never been a real opposition figure despite his links to the Islamic Revival Party," he says. "First and foremost, he was a businessman who pursued his commercial interests."

In 1999, when Tajik authorities and the Islamist-led opposition agreed to form a power-sharing government following the country's five-year civil war, Saidov was chosen to head the Industry Affairs Committee. The position eventually became a ministerial slot, which Saidov held until 2007.

Worked Well With Rahmon

Although technically he was part of the opposition's 30-percent share of government posts, he worked well with the authorities, and frequently joined President Rahmon on trips and in meetings.

After his dismissal, his business ventures expanded. These included the "Dushanbe Plaza," which boasts the tallest building in Tajikistan.

Addressing the idea that Saidov was taken down because of his potential to lead the opposition, Mullojonov points to a competing theory, according to which Saidov honed his image as an opposition figure in order to protect himself from prosecution.

"Some people believe Saidov already knew there were serious threats against him and possibly his business interests," Mullojonov says. "They say Saidov abruptly announced plans about the [New Tajikistan] party to make the case look politically motivated. But we don't have any proof to support such a theory."

Mullojonov suggests that the Tajik government would have been mistaken in seeing Saidov as a threat, or as someone who answered to Russia. (The businessman reportedly visited Moscow shortly before he announced the launching of the New Tajikistan party.)

"He might have political ambitions but he would never go against the government," he says. "Many people even believed that New Tajikistan actually was a government-backed project to gain support for the administration in regions where people traditionally support the opposition."

There have been numerous cases in Tajikistan in which successful entrepreneurs lost their businesses after dubious charges were brought against them.

Ghufronov suggests that this is what happened with Saidov as well.

"The authorities are killing two birds with one bullet," he says. "They are eliminating a political threat and taking over his commercial interests."
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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.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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