A corporation linked to a relative of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has received tens of millions of dollars from the country's sovereign wealth fund, an investigation by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service has revealed.
Orient Group, which is linked to Oybek Umarov -- a relative of Mirziyoev -- received the funds through the Uzbek Oman Investment Company (UOIC), the investigation showed.
Umarov, a founder and shareholder of Orient Group, is the younger brother of Otabek Umarov, who is married to Mirziyoev's daughter, Shahnoza.
Seventy-five percent of the UOIC's charter capital is owned by the Investment Authority of Oman. The remaining 25 percent is owned by Uzbekistan's Fund for Reconstruction and Development, which maintains the country's sovereign wealth fund.
According to the fund's official website, its capital reached $25 billion last year. The money -- which is generated by the government -- is meant for developing basic sectors of the country's economy and providing benefits for its citizens.
But the investigation by RFE/RL, in cooperation with the University of Ulster's Kristian Lasslett, shows the Orient Group was a major recipient of state money in recent years.
Lasslett researched the UOIC's investment portfolio in Uzbekistan between 2016 and 2020.
The research showed that 86 percent -- or about $161 million -- of the UOIC's total traceable investment in Uzbekistan during that period was made in companies, businesses, and projects that belong to the Orient Group.
Among them are Gold Dried Fruit Export, which received $25 million, and Binokor Temir Beton Servis, which got nearly $20 million in investments from the UOIC.
The Orient Group consists of at least 58 companies involved in various sectors, including banking, construction, retail, real estate, and a soccer club.
The UOIC states on its website: "We create partnerships and help investors to develop their businesses as well as accelerate the development of the economy of the country."
But it remains unclear why the majority of the company's investments focus only on the Orient Group.
RFE/RL contacted both the UOIC and the Orient Group for comment but received no response.
The investigation suggests Mirziyoev knows that the money from the sovereign wealth fund was given to the Orient Group by the UOIC because -- according to law -- any allocation of money or loans from the fund must be signed by the president.
Getting Rich Quick -- But Quietly
Oybek Umarov rose rapidly in the business world after his older brother married then-Prime Minister Mirziyoev's daughter in 2007.
In 2010, when just 24 years old, Oybek Umarov was registered as one of four founders of a major private bank, Orient Finans.
Some of Oybek Umarov's acquaintances from his childhood in Ferghana Province told RFE/RL they remember him as a little-known cattle trader whose fortunes changed after his brother joined the Mirziyoev family.
By June 2015, Oybek Umarov owned $13.6 million worth of shares in Finans Bank. After Mirziyoev became president in 2016 Oybek Umarov's business interests grew immensely.
His diverse portfolio includes several multimillion-dollar businesses in construction, tourism, banking, and the textile industry.
Despite the business empire linked to Oybek Umarov, he keeps a low profile in public and has no presence on social media.
But his brother is a keen user of social media, with 10 million followers on Instagram -- though Otabek Umarov makes no mention of his wealthy brother on social media or in public.
That has sparked speculation the first family doesn't want to attract attention to Oybek Umarov out of concern that his growing business empire could come under public scrutiny.
Perks Of Office
In Uzbekistan, the president enjoys unchecked power and controls the country's politics and its business sphere.
Several family members of former President Islam Karimov -- who ruled the country from 1991 until his death in 2016 -- were accused of exploiting their clout to amass vast fortunes.
Karimov's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, has been imprisoned after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering, misappropriating property, and other financial crimes.
Since taking office, Mirziyoev has pledged to clean up Uzbekistan’s reputation as a haven for corruption in the hope of attracting new foreign investment for Central Asia's most populous country.