TASHKENT -- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev says a secretive mountain retreat that was allegedly built for him belongs to the state and is used to entertain "high-ranking guests."
An RFE/RL investigative report lifted the curtain on the luxurious mansion allegedly built for Mirziyoev in the protected Ugam-Chatkal National Park about 100 kilometers northeast of Tashkent.
In his first public comment on the report, Mirziyoev said on March 18 that he has nothing to do with the property in the Shovvozsoy River area, and reiterated an earlier statement by Uzbekistan Railways that it is legally owned by the state railway company.
"Nobody has resided, lived, or transferred it to someone's [personal ownership.] It is a state-owned site. What does the president have to do with it? The president will go there if a high-ranking guest, whose visit is beneficial for Uzbekistan, comes to visit," Mirziyoev said, answering a question of a blogger at an event near the Uzbek capital Tashkent.
Mirziyoev did not elaborate on who constituted a "high-ranking guest" and added that with his busy schedule, he had almost no time to use the property for personal use.
"Why don't you ask how many times your president was able to have a rest in the five years [of his presidency?]," he added.
Construction of the compound, which features helicopter landing pads and is subject to a no-fly zone, began in 2017 -- the year Mirziyoev took power -- and was largely completed by the end of 2018.
Locals say a new reservoir built next to the compound has disrupted their water supply, displaced families, and caused environmental damage.
Construction workers said they were forced to hand over their phones while working on site, and roadblocks and security guards prevent the public from approaching the area.
Officials have never publicly explained the reservoir and resort, nor have they provided information about the costs, which multiple RFE/RL sources estimated at several hundred million dollars to build.
The RFE/RL report was published on February 23, and the next day Uzbekistan Railways said that it was not built for Mirziyoev but instead belonged to the company and had been used as a recreation compound for its employees.
The company’s statement was accompanied with video of the area, but contained numerous inconsistencies.
Since coming to power, Mirziyoev has portrayed himself as committed to improving transparency, human rights protections, and anti-corruption efforts, striking a contrast to his late autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.