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Offshore scheme behind the riches of Uzbek dictator's daughter

Posted on May 4, 2019 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (125)

Daughter of deceased Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, Lola Karimova, and her husband Timur Tillyaev are top socialites in Paris and Los Angeles

The Uzbek couple own a perfume boutique in Melrose Place and a 50 million USD villa in Beverly Hills

This year, they produced an award-winning documentary at the Venice Film Festival, and Lola was profiled for high society bible Vanity Fair

Their wealth comes from a market for imported goods in Uzbek capital Tashkent which is suspected of benefiting from tax privileges, a charge which they deny

In 2013 and 2014 alone, 127 million dollars of cash in their company transactions was channelled through offshore bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland, through a complex financial scheme, our investigation reveals

Former collaborators of a leading Uzbek ‘mafia boss’ held and still hold key positions at the couple’s business

This year’s Cannes Film Festival was a triumph for Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva. To promote her perfume brand ‘The Harmonist’, the youngest daughter of the former Uzbek president Islam Karimov held one of the Riviera’s grandest social events.

On 22 May, she rented Club Albane on the rooftop of the JW Marriott Hotel, the festival's most exclusive venue, for the first edition of ‘The Harmonist Excellence Award’, where she personally handed the top prize to Oscar-winning French actor Juliette Binoche.

The 102 illustrious guests also included actors Catherine Deneuve and Kristin Scott Thomas - as well as 90s pin-up Pamela Anderson.

Together they enjoyed Champagne cocktails in the balmy atmosphere, a gastronomic dinner called ‘scents of harmony’ and a private concert by ‘Kiss from a Rose’ singer Seal.

Lola Karimova, 39, is a big spender at Cannes. Last year, she rented the entire beach of the Martinez Palace for performances by American pop sensation Jason Derulo and DJ Martin Solveig.

Before this event, Lola blasted a TV advert for her perfume on a giant screen in front of a crowd that included stars Orlando Bloom, Kate Hudson and Mélanie Laurent, top models Karolina Kurkova and Heidi Klum and Ivana Trump, the ex-wife of the US president.

Dizzy on Champagne and taking in the luxury air, these celebrities had no qualms about promoting the image of the daughter of the former president of the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

The leader brutally ran the country as a kleptocracy for his inner circle for over two decades until his death in September 2016, suppressing dissent with violence and torture, and muzzling the press.

According to our information, several guests were paid to attend the parties in Cannes, including Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve. But the PR officer for these actresses said they did not know Lola Karimova, and were not aware that she owned ‘The Harmonist’ brand. Representatives of Orlando Bloom, Pamela Anderson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Mélanie Laurent did not reply.

But they did not seem too concerned about the origin of the immense fortune behind the perfume, which amounts to several hundred millions of dollars, and hails from a 32-million strong state of farms and mines, where children are enlisted into forced labour in cotton fields.

The business of Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, managed by her husband Timur Tillyaev, is less glamorous than an evening of testing a 285-dollar elixir, while knocking back the fizz to a live soundtrack from the latest R&B hitmaker.

Confidential documents, obtained by Mediapart and shared with the media network European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) show that the couple accumulated, in 2013 and 2014 alone, 127 million dollars hidden in offshore bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland, through a complex financial scheme.

Dubai Trading Hub: Heart of Scheme

At the centre of the system is trading company Securtrade, registered in Dubai. It sells imported consumer goods, such as clothing and televisions, to other trading companies which supply Tashkent's main wholesale market, Abu Sahiy. This market is owned by Timur Tillyaev, and is suspected of benefiting from tax privileges, a charge which the businessman denies.

Another issue is that Securtrade undertakes most of its business with dozens of shell companies registered in tax havens. The EIC also noted anomalies in invoices and transport documents, which suggests that some transactions could be fake.

Above this mysterious business hangs the shadow of Uzbek mafia boss Salim Abduvaliyev: two of his former collaborators have held key positions at the head of Timur and Lola’s companies in the United Arab Emirates.

The multi-millionaire Uzbek couple would not speak to EIC. Instead their American lawyer, Mark F. Raymond, states, in a written answer, that our information is “groundless”. “Mr. Tillyaev’s businesses are legitimate and have not engaged in illicit activity.” He adds that he is “confident” that our documents “are either stolen or fabrications”, and that they have been provided by a “disgruntled, biased, and reckless former consultant” in conflict with Timur Tillyaev, who “has been discredited”.

Raymond adds: “Know that the publication of any defamatory article will result in our clients pursuing all lawful remedies against you and all those who aid you in such wrongful conduct.”

U.S. Cables: Lola the Ex-Nightclubber

Gaining detailed and accurate information about Uzbek politics and its elite is almost impossible. The press is under constant attack, and even dissidents living in foreign countries are afraid to speak, because their families in Uzbekistan can face threats and intimidation.

But there is information about Lola Karimova’s past from American diplomatic cables from 2004, published on Wikileaks. The president’s younger daughter, then 26, is described as a nightclubber, driving every night at the wheel of her Porsche Cayenne, to the most chic venue in Tashkent. The cable says that she drank alcohol and “danced freely” until the end of the night with her “thuggish-looking” boyfriend and future husband Timur Tillyaev, an owner of bars and restaurants in the capital of the Muslim-majority country.

In 2006, Lola Karimova left Uzbekistan and settled briefly in Riga, Latvia. With her husband, she moved to Paris and to Switzerland, where they bought a 30 million Euro property in 2010 in the poshest suburb of Geneva. Three years later, Timur and Lola purchased a mega-villa worth around 50 million dollars in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

In a recent interview for a puff piece in Vanity Fair promoting her perfume brand, Lola says that she shares her time between her main LA residence and Paris, where she works for her perfume company and as an ambassador of Uzbekistan to Unesco, a post she held from 2008 and is likely to relinquish soon. She also runs several charities, like the ‘You Are Not Alone Foundation’, which supports Uzbek orphans.

A pillar of Parisian social life, Karimova works to improve the image of the Uzbek regime, which is most notable in the international press for the ‘Andijan Massacre’ of 2005 - where its security services fired on a peaceful protest, killing hundreds of demonstrators, before burying them in mass graves. The authorities also had a penchant for boiling alive their prisoners.

Accessing Parisian high society does not come cheap. French magazine Bakchich [now defunct] revealed actor Monica Bellucci was paid 190,000 Euro in 2009 to attend Karimova’s so-called ‘Humanitarian’ dinner, featuring French movie veteran Alain Delon and Bernadette Chirac, the wife of former French president Jacques Chirac.

Lola also acted as a guardian of her father, suing, without success, an article by news website Rue89, which described her as a “dictator’s daughter”. In November 2016, two months after her father's death, she founded the Islam Karimov Foundation, the purpose of which, alongside charity work, is to “perpetuate the memory and principles” of the former president.

To further show her patriotism to the Uzbek cause, she also produced a documentary about an Uzbek astronomer ‘Ulugh Beg: Through Hardships to the Stars’, with American actor Armand Assante in the lead role, and former Mr Bellucci - Vincent Cassel - as narrator. This movie won the ‘Kineo’ Prize for Best Foreign Documentary at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Lola Karimova distances herself from her sister Gulnara, a former pop singer and businesswoman who has been prosecuted since 2012 in five countries for receiving 340 million USD in bribes from foreign firms to obtain mobile phone licences in Uzbekistan.

In 2014, Gulnara was placed under house arrest in Uzbekistan by her own father and, since last summer, has been in jail, with an Uzbek prosecutor accusing her of hijacking a total of 1.5 billion USD. In 2013, shortly after Gulnara's first legal troubles, Lola Karimova told the BBC that she had “no family or friendly relations” with her sister, and they had “not spoken to each other for 12 years.”

Lola Karimova is discreet about the origin of her wealth. In the same BBC interview, she merely declared that her husband “is a shareholder in a transport and trading company”.

According to our documents, the wealth of the couple comes from Abu Sahiy, a huge 25-hectare wholesale market of consumer goods in the suburbs of Tashkent. Founded in March 2006 by Timur Tillyaev, after his romance with Lola began, Abu Sahiy has become the largest trading centre of imports in Uzbekistan.

The deceased president's son-in-law also owns the Silk Road group of companies, an air cargo business company closely linked to Abu Sahiy, and headquartered a few hundred metres from the market.

According to reports by media often critical of the regime, including Ferghana and Centr-1, Abu Sahiy‘s success is based on an unofficial tax and customs privilege, and possibly paying no customs duties.

Duties and taxes on imported goods in Uzbekistan are punitively high for consumers and merchants, but there is a cheaper route. Abu Sahiy consists of a transport ‘system’ which brings in products by plane and lorry from abroad, often from China and through Kyrgyzstan. Merchants buy into the system to allow them to import goods into Uzbekistan, without paying the customs’ duties themselves, it is understood.

In an interview with Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Gulnara Karimova, said that Abu Sahiy is “without any tax obligations to the state budget” and has “a monthly turnover of around 20 million dollars”, or 240 million dollars a year for Timur Tillyaev.

But the firm’s bypassing of the legal route is denied by Tillyaev's American representative.

Mark F. Raymond points out that “Abu Sahiy’s premiere position” and its “lower” prices is only “the result of a well-organized business with a high standard of technical and logistics skills… The conduct of business is in compliance with all laws, including the payment of all taxes and duties. [Abu Sahiy] has never enjoyed any special customs privileges or undue tax exemptions.”

Dubai Firm: Massive profit of 85 per cent on clothing and TV sales

Lola and her husband use a complex offshore trading system, which results in money transferring from Uzbekistan into their companies in tax havens.

In early 2013, Timur Tillyaev created the import-export company Securtrade in Dubai, of which he is the sole shareholder. He entrusted the management to fellow Uzbek collaborator Alimbekov Dovronbek, an engineer and champion of Uzbek martial arts.

Here we detail a chain of businesses in multiple jurisdictions: Securtrade buys products in China or Turkey, then sells them to other trading companies, which sell them to Scottish shell companies, which further sell them on to the merchants of Abu Sahiy market.

Documents obtained by EIC suggest that this scheme is shady. First, there are the stupendous profits of Securtrade.

Its bank records for 2013 and 2014 show that the company achieved, over this period, a minimum of 127 million USD in profit on a turnover of 151 million USD.

That makes a hallucinatory net gain of 85 per cent, which seems out of reach for a company that sells low margin products such as TV sets and clothes.

Some of this money has financed the couple's activities and personal expenses. 12 million USD was wired to Silk Road International, a company in Brunei which owns the couple’s Airbus A300 cargo plane. Securtrade also paid 1.2 million USD to Vertfort LCC, the American company that owns the couple's villa in Beverly Hills, and 675,000 USD to Harmonist Inc., the U.S. company operating Lola's Harmonist boutique in Los Angeles.

The remaining cash, 113 million USD, has remained in the company’s accounts at Mashreq Bank in Dubai, and at NBAD Bank in Abu Dhabi, while 20 million USD has been transferred to an account at the Swiss bank Vontobel, through a Swiss assets management company called CPCI.

Because this is complicated, here is a diagram that sets this out:

According to reports by media often critical of the regime, including Ferghana and Centr-1, Abu Sahiy‘s success is based on an unofficial tax and customs privilege, and possibly paying no customs duties.

Duties and taxes on imported goods in Uzbekistan are punitively high for consumers and merchants, but there is a cheaper route. Abu Sahiy consists of a transport ‘system’ which brings in products by plane and lorry from abroad, often from China and through Kyrgyzstan. Merchants buy into the system to allow them to import goods into Uzbekistan, without paying the customs’ duties themselves, it is understood.

In an interview with Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Gulnara Karimova, said that Abu Sahiy is “without any tax obligations to the state budget” and has “a monthly turnover of around 20 million dollars”, or 240 million dollars a year for Timur Tillyaev.

But the firm’s bypassing of the legal route is denied by Tillyaev's American representative.

Mark F. Raymond points out that “Abu Sahiy’s premiere position” and its “lower” prices is only “the result of a well-organized business with a high standard of technical and logistics skills… The conduct of business is in compliance with all laws, including the payment of all taxes and duties. [Abu Sahiy] has never enjoyed any special customs privileges or undue tax exemptions.”

Dubai Firm: Massive profit of 85 per cent on clothing and TV sales

Lola and her husband use a complex offshore trading system, which results in money transferring from Uzbekistan into their companies in tax havens.

In early 2013, Timur Tillyaev created the import-export company Securtrade in Dubai, of which he is the sole shareholder. He entrusted the management to fellow Uzbek collaborator Alimbekov Dovronbek, an engineer and champion of Uzbek martial arts.

Here we detail a chain of businesses in multiple jurisdictions: Securtrade buys products in China or Turkey, then sells them to other trading companies, which sell them to Scottish shell companies, which further sell them on to the merchants of Abu Sahiy market.

Documents obtained by EIC suggest that this scheme is shady. First, there are the stupendous profits of Securtrade.

Its bank records for 2013 and 2014 show that the company achieved, over this period, a minimum of 127 million USD in profit on a turnover of 151 million USD.

That makes a hallucinatory net gain of 85 per cent, which seems out of reach for a company that sells low margin products such as TV sets and clothes.

Some of this money has financed the couple's activities and personal expenses. 12 million USD was wired to Silk Road International, a company in Brunei which owns the couple’s Airbus A300 cargo plane. Securtrade also paid 1.2 million USD to Vertfort LCC, the American company that owns the couple's villa in Beverly Hills, and 675,000 USD to Harmonist Inc., the U.S. company operating Lola's Harmonist boutique in Los Angeles.

The remaining cash, 113 million USD, has remained in the company’s accounts at Mashreq Bank in Dubai, and at NBAD Bank in Abu Dhabi, while 20 million USD has been transferred to an account at the Swiss bank Vontobel, through a Swiss assets management company called CPCI.

Because this is complicated, here is a diagram that sets this out:

The question remains: how can Securtrade achieve such huge profitability?

Well, it seems that this Dubai company of Timur Tillyaev sells products, but rarely buys them.

In its 2013 and 2014 bank records, there are 151 million USD of sales, but only eight million identified as payments to suppliers, almost twenty times fewer.

In its annual financial statements, Securtrade states it has bought 92 million USD worth of products during the same period, but adds that it accumulated a trading debt of 79 million USD owed to its suppliers at the end of 2014.

This means that Securtrade only paid out 13 million USD from 92 million. Financial experts say that a seller in such a transaction would not put up with owing such a high debt to a client, as these payments are usually cleared in a maximum of three months.

So this raises a doubt about the reality of these business deals - an issue which Timur and Lola’s lawyer refused to explain publicly. He only stated that Securtrade’s financial statements are “appropriate and above-board.”

Securtrade’s customers are equally troubling. The company makes almost all of its sales with shell corporations that have no offices or employees.

At the top of the chain, Securtrade’s final customers are, according to Tillyaev’s lawyer, traders who sell goods to “vendors at Abu Sahiy and other markets”.

But all these merchants keen to work in Central Asia have - bizarrely - chosen to set up their businesses in Scotland, more than 5,000 kilometres from Tashkent.

Uzbek Trading Hotspot: A Village in South Lanarkshire

The three trading customers of Securtrade are named Elcorp, Five Star Technology Support, and Greenhall Management.

These are ‘Scottish Limited Partnerships’, a controversial status that allows them to keep the secrecy of the owners with the same lack of transparency as the most notorious tax havens, but with the respectable facade of a British company.

Securtrade’s final customers are based in a room in a central Edinburgh block, and a townhouse in the village of Douglas, in the county of South Lanarkshire. This village became famous when one of the 2,662 companies registered at a Main Street address was in a criminal probe due to arms sales concerning Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

Behind the Scottish companies trading with Lola Karimova's husband is the same Dublin-based fiduciary firm Kearney Curran & Co [which refused to answer our questions, or comment on the phone], and the same British men acting as nominee directors.

Two of these names administer over 2,000 companies, earning them the status of being the most active straw men in Europe.

In short - this scheme is commonly used to conceal the real owners of these companies.

In Edinburgh, John Hein, who is registered at the address of Elcorp Management, confirmed that his company set up “a mailbox service” for this trading firm, and that he forwarded any letters to Dublin. Elcorp has no personnel at the address.

In Douglas, a similar forwarding company called Office Wizard, also confirmed 'Five Star Technology Support' has no presence at its address. “We rent virtual space to companies who are based out of the UK, but wish to operate in the UK,” said Office Wizard's Lily Clark. “They can operate anywhere in the world.”

Another coincidence: all these 'Scottish LPs' opened accounts in the Latvian bank Rietumu in Riga. This bank has a poor reputation, and was recently hit with a 80 million Euro fine from France for money laundering and tax evasion [Rietumu refused to answer questions from EIC, or comment].

Chasing the Ghost Firm of Switzerland

These Scotland-based merchants buy the goods from other trading companies based in Switzerland or the United Arab Emirates, who buy from Securtrade.

But in reality, these intermediary companies are empty shells. Their only aim is to serve as a buffer between Securtrade and its Scottish 'clients'.


One of these, Swiss company Titan Traders, went to great lengths to create a façade. Its headquarters is in a building in the center of Luzern. Upstairs, Titan has his own door and a glass sign with its name and a generic logo. In reality, behind the door are the premises of a trust company, which has its own entrance only a few meters away.

When we visited the location, and knocked on Titan's door, an employee of the trust company told us, without possibly understanding the irony of the statement:

“There's nobody working for Titan here, it's just their head office.”

Titan has its bank account at ABLV bank in Riga. It is owned by Patrick Gruhn, a Swiss businessman with multiple interests, who presents himself as a wealth manager. He admits that he knows Timur Tillyaev, but swears that it created a trading business with Uzbekistan "on his own accord and not under instruction of Mr. Tillyaev".

In reality, Titan works only with Securtrade, and Gruhn's main job was to sign contracts and invoices, in exchange for commissions amounting hundreds of thousands of euros. Gruhn's spokesman says that Titan “has now been dormant for nearly two years”.

Patrick Gruhn has also lent, through Titan Traders, 350,000 Euro to the French company which manages the Paris boutique The Harmonist, the perfume brand of Lola Karimova, located on the exclusive George V Avenue near the Champs-Elysées. Gruhn says that the loan has been fully repaid.

Gruhn says that Titan’s role was to ensure that the Scottish ‘merchants’ would not bypass Securtrade, and buy "directly from the initial Chinese supplier".

Timur Tillyaev’s lawyer asserts that the use of these intermediary companies “is commonly used by companies all over the world, not for nefarious or improper reasons, but as a sound, prudent and legitimate business practice”. He adds that Securtrade “has been the subject of intensive third party reviews and audits”, but he did not show these analyses to EIC.

Invoices which Predict the Future

Our documents, however, reveal several problematic transactions. In one example, in November 2013, Securtrade bought five batches of clothes from a Chinese exporter, Xinjiang Bortala. Then Securtrade sold the goods for nine million USD to Titan, which resold them to Scottish shell company Five Star.

But the documents obtained by EIC suggest that there could be no real trading of goods behind this money flow. In most cases Titan resells the clothes to Five Star, before it even buys them.

Invoices issued by the Chinese supplier to Securtrade do not have a company header or signature. One of the Xinjiang Bortala invoices mentions the resale of the products by Securtrade to Titan, on a date which happens two weeks after the date written on its invoice. In other words, it reports a sale which happens in the future.

The clothes have been shipped by trucks from China to the Abu Sahiy market in Tashkent. But there are problems with the transport documents. They have the stamp of the Uzbek customs, but were not filled in correctly: most of the mandatory fields were left blank, including export license numbers, truck departure and arrival dates, and commodity prices.

In response, Timur Tillyaev’s lawyer asserts that Securtrade only carries out “legitimate, legal transactions of actual goods”.

“To the extent that non-falsified, actual company documents may reveal an error in any one of those transactions, we acknowledge that no company is 100% perfect, and we do not claim that SecurTrade is the exception,” adds Mark F. Raymond.

The activities of Timur Tillyaev in the United Arab Emirates raised suspicion among the authorities. In May 2013, following a denunciation by the central bank, the Sharjah police launched an investigation into Silk Road FZE (one of the companies in Tillyaev’s business galaxy) on suspicion of money laundering. The two Uzbek managers of the company were questioned and their passports confiscated. But they were eventually allowed to leave the country.

A coincidence - On 8 September 2013, the manager of Securtrade, Alimbekov Dovronbek, had the privilege to meet the Sheikh of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, in his palace. According to our information, the henchman of Timur Tillyaev offered a Rolls Royce to the sheikh. Timur Tillyaev says that he is “unaware” of this episode and that his companies “do not engage in any bribery or corrupt activities”.

A year later, another company in Timur Tillyaev’s network, Silk Road Cargo, based in Dubai, was under investigation. In October 2014, the Uzbek director of Silk Road Cargo, Aleksey Yaitskiy, is arrested and imprisoned for corruption in Dubai, for offering 100,000 Euro of bribes to an Emirate official. He was eventually allowed to leave the country.

Tillyaev's lawyer says that Yaitskiy “was not acting on behalf of the company” and that he was immediately dismissed. Despite this incident, Yaitskiy was appointed shortly afterwards to the Uzbekistan Airways office in London [Today the airline confirmed Yaitskiy worked there, but state he left the company some time ago].

Now Yaitskiy is on LinkedIn, where his only job listed is 'advisor' to Silk Road, the name of Tillyaev's firm.

Mafia Boss’s Former Collaborators Connected to Dealings

Timur Tillyev picked collaborators with a past connected to organized crime. According to EIC sources and media reports, Aleksey Yaitskiy and the director of Securtrade Alimbekov Dovronbek, are both close and former employees to the senior Uzbek godfather, Salim Abduvaliyev, known as ‘Salimboy’.

Aged 67, Abduvaliyev is described as a “mafia chieftain” in a U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks. Close to the former dictator and father of Lola, Islam Karimov, he is described in this cable as the man who supervises the bribes paid by foreign investors to access businesses in Uzbekistan. Timur and ‘Salimboy’ have also been described in the press as ‘close’.

“Mr. Tillyaev has no personal or professional relationship with Salim Abdvaliev [sic] and is unaware of any relationship Mr. Dovronbek or Yaitskiy allegedly has or had with him,” his lawyer replies.

The Securtrade system brings in mega profits. Since our documents cover only the years 2013 and 2014, Lola Karimova and her husband have probably cashed in Dubaï much more than the 127 million USD of which we are aware.

Did Lola Karimova and her husband transfer their fortune abroad to protect themselves in the event of political changes in Uzbekistan? Has this system been put in place to reduce their tax bill? Their lawyer says that “Mr. Tillyaev reports his companies in his filings and pays taxes.”

But their wealth could be at risk. On 8 September 2016, less than a week after the death of Islam Karimov, the Uzbek newspaper UzMetronom reported that the authorities had launched an inspection of the Abu Sahiy market on suspicions of tax evasion and illegal use of foreign currency.

According to the Ferghana News website, this ‘operation’ could prepare the transfer of the market to the relatives of the new Uzbek president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. This is likely to be his son-in-law Oybek Saidov, who is understood to be a director in the Presidential administration.

”[Tillyaev] is not aware of any investigation of Abu Sahiy by Uzbek authorities and remains the 100% shareholder of Abu Sahiy […] more than a year after his father in law's death,” states his lawyer, Mark F Raymond.

In his opinion, this situation “evidences that the business did not benefit from a familial or government-protected status.”


Business empires can rise and fall in Uzbekistan in a matter of weeks, in a country where many of the biggest names in trade are now in exile or prison at home.

Possible scenarios include a struggle or a power-sharing agreement between the families of the former and current ruler.

But in a country as closed as Uzbekistan, it is hard to find proof about where the power lies, and how that power is exercised.

Uzbek Leader of Ameteur Boxing Federation Steps Aside.

Posted on March 27, 2019 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The Uzbek chief of the AIBA -- world amateur boxing's governing body -- has stepped aside amid a dispute with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to let an interim leader take over.

Gafur Rakhimov, however, said on March 22 that he was not resigning as AIBA president and did not call for new elections to be held.

It was not immediately clear if he would seek to be reinstated after a pending IOC investigation on his leadership is completed.

Rakhimov in November 2018 won 86 of the 134 valid votes at the AIBA congress in Moscow to beat his only opponent, former boxer Serik Konakbayev of Kazakhstan.

However, Rakhimov is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for alleged links to international heroin trafficking. The sanctions bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with him. Rakhimov denies any wrongdoing.

The IOC also criticized Rakhimov's bid to become head of AIBA over controversial judging at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

There was speculation ahead of the vote that boxing could be kicked out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics program should Rakhimov be elected.

Gafur Rakhimov

Controversial Uzbek Businessman Elected Head Of Amateur Boxing Federation

The status of boxing is on the agenda for the IOC Executive Board in its next meeting, scheduled for Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 26-28.

"Once again, as I have stated before on numerous occasions, I attest and confirm that the allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies; I trust that the truth will prevail," Rakhimov said in his statement.

Rakhimov added that under his leadership, "the work done this last year has revitalized and energized AIBA and boxing."

"However, despite these efforts, there have been many discussions these last few months about the future of Olympic boxing. A lot of that was mainly focused on politics and not sport.

"While I had truly hoped and believed that sport and politics could be separated, and that the good work and positive changes being infused into AIBA would be recognized, the politically based discussions have put into question the progress being made throughout the AIBA organization."

U.S. Charges Daughter Of Late Uzbek President With Bribery, Corruption

Posted on March 15, 2019 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (19)

The United States has for the first time named Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late president of Uzbekistan, in a major international bribery scheme, charging her with conspiracy to violate U.S. foreign-corruption laws.

The criminal charges, announced on March 7 by the U.S. Justice Department, came just days after Karimova was abruptly detained in Tashkent, accused of violating her house arrest, and ordered sent to an Uzbek prison.

While U.S. court documents have in the past suggested the involvement of Karimova in violation of foreign corrupt practices, the filing was the first time she has been explicitly named -- a further sign of how deep her criminal liability has become.

The Justice Department said it was one of the largest bribery schemes ever under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

It is also an indication of how the government of Uzbekistan, under the successor to President Islam Karimov, has moved to target major figures from the Karimov era — including his relatives.

The charges stem from an alleged bribery scheme involving Russia’s largest mobile-phone provider, MTS.

The Moscow-based company, whose shares trade on U.S. stock exchanges, on March 7 announced it had reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors under which it would pay $850 million to settle bribery and corruption charges related to its business in Uzbekistan.

According to U.S. court filings, Karimov and a longtime aide named Bekhzod Akhmedov conspired to solicit more than $865 million in bribes related to mobile-phone licenses and regulations in Uzbekistan over more than 11 years, between 2001 and 2012.

The companies included MTS, but also VimpelCom and the Scandinavian telecom company that used to be known as TeliaSonera.

Both those companies paid record settlements to U.S. and other foreign regulators for bribery schemes that also were connected to Karimova.

This is the third installment in a trilogy of cases arising from an almost $1 billion bribery scheme that reached the highest echelons of the Uzbekistan government and was orchestrated by some of the largest telecommunications companies in the world," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

Following her detention, Karimova's whereabouts was not clear.

Akhmedov, meanwhile, was a longtime aide for Karimova, who fled to Moscow in 2012.

In an affidavit filed in September 2012 with Russian law enforcement officials, Akhmedov provided explicit details about Karimova’s business practices while he still lived in Tashkent.

He asserted that he and his family was threatened repeatedly and pressured to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Karimova foundation event.

А flashy socialite known for fashion shows and syrupy pop-music videos, Karimova was at one point thought to be an heir to Karimov and the presidency.

But she disappeared from the public eye in 2014. Uzbek prosecutors subsequently confirmed she was under house arrest and being investigated for suspected corruption and other charges.

On March 5, Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor-General's Office said a Tashkent court had found she had violated the terms of her house arrest and ordered her sent to prison.

Since Karimov’s death in 2016, his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoev, has moved to make Uzbekistan more business-friendly and to attract Western investment. His government has also engaged in a purge of thousands of government officials appointed under Karimov and has even moved to target top law enforcement, including the former prosecutor-general.

U.S. authorities, meanwhile, have been engaged in multiyear negotiations with Uzbekistan over the fate of nearly $1 billion in assets belonging to Karimova that have been frozen in Swiss and other bank accounts.

Ukraine Suffers World's Biggest Rise In Measles Cases in 2018

Posted on March 1, 2019 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Ukraine suffered the world’s largest increase in the number of measles cases in 2018, some of them the result of the so-called "anti-vax" movement, the United Nations children’s agency says.

A UNICEF report on March 1 said Ukraine led an "alarmingly high” worldwide surge in measles cases, blaming much of it on growing "vaccine hesitancy" that threatens to undo decades of work to get the "highly preventable, but potentially deadly disease" under control.

Health officials worldwide have expressed concerns about the "anti-vax" movement spreading on social media and elsewhere that has raised fears in some adults that vaccinations can be harmful.

"Almost all of these [measles] cases are preventable, and yet children are getting infected even in places where there is simply no excuse," said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s executive director.

"Measles may be the disease but, all too often, the real infection is misinformation, mistrust, and complacency. We must do more to accurately inform every parent, to help us safely vaccinate every child."

UNICEF said statistics by the World Health Organization showed there were 35,120 cases of measles in Ukraine last year -- a massive rise from about 5,000 in 2017.

Low Vaccination Rates

It added that, according to the Ukrainian government, 24,042 people have been infected in the first two months of 2019 alone.

The worst-hit area of the country has been the western Lviv region, "where negative attitudes toward immunization, and previous shortages in vaccine supply, have resulted in low vaccination rates."

UNICEF said it has provided ongoing support to accelerate routine immunization across Ukraine to address vaccine hesitancy in the crisis that has claimed 30 lives since 2017.

Serbia was also among the top 10 countries with the highest year-to-year rises in measles cases. The Western Balkan nation had an increase of 4,355 cases from 2017 to 2018.

The agency also expressed concerns about reported measles cases in 2018 in countries that were free of the disease in 2017. Moldova had 312 cases in 2018, Montenegro had 203 cases in 2018, and Uzbekistan had 17.

Globally, 98 countries reported more cases of measles in 2018 than in 2017, it said.

"This is a wake-up call," UNICEF’s Fore said.

"We have a safe, effective, and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease -- a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades."

'Life-Saving Tool'

The new surge in cases has not "happened overnight," she added.

"Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow."

The report said poor health infrastructure, civil strife, low community awareness, complacency, and vaccine hesitancy have contributed to outbreaks in both developed and developing countries.

It said the number of measles cases increased six-fold between 2017 and 2018 in the United States, reaching 791.

The report warned that measles is highly contagious -- "more so than Ebola, tuberculosis, or influenza."

It can be contracted by someone within two hours after an infected person has left a room. It spreads through the air and infects the respiratory tract.

"Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children," it said.

Three Ex-Telia Executives Acquitted In Uzbek Bribery Case

Posted on February 15, 2019 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

STOCKHOLM -- Three former executives of telecom giant Telia have been acquitted in Sweden in a high-profile bribery case involving the eldest daughter of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Former chief executive Lars Nyberg and two other defendants went on trial in September on suspicion of paying $350 million to Gulnara Karimova in return for a mobile-phone license in Uzbekistan for their company, which was then called TeliaSonera.

The Stockholm District Court acquitted the trio on February 15.

According to the court's decision, the text of which RFE/RL's Uzbek service obtained, the trio was found not guilty as it has not been proven that Karimova held any official position connected to the telecom sector, which has been the prosecutor's main argument.

Nyberg along with Telia's former adviser for Eurasia, Olli Tuohimaa, and the company's former deputy chief, Tero Kivisaari, were charged in 2017 after the Stockholm-based company agreed to pay nearly $1 billion in penalties to help settle the years-long corruption probe.

Telia is not the only international telecom company that has been accused of bribing Uzbek officials.

In February 2017, Dutch-based VimpelCom, which is controlled by a Russian-owned holding company, agreed to pay $795 million to resolve U.S. and Dutch bribery charges.

Karimova, 46, was once a high-profile socialite, fashion designer, pop singer, and ambassador to UN agencies in Geneva who was seen as a potential successor to her father, who ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist for 25 years. Karimov died in 2016.

But she vanished from sight as she found herself at the center of a financial-crimes probe in Uzbekistan in which many of her associates have been jailed.

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office said last year that Karimova was sentenced to five years of "restricted freedom" in 2015 after she and several associates were convicted of crimes, including extortion, embezzlement, and tax evasion.

Karimova has additionally been charged with several other crimes, including financial misdeeds, forgery, and money laundering, a statement said.

Multiple previous reports have indicated she has been under house arrest since 2014.

Zeromax creditors claim for Gulnara Karimovas ill-gotten assets is neither legitimate nor fair

Posted on January 20, 2019 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Federal Assembly of Switzerland

Swiss Federal Council

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)

Federal Department of Justice and Police

Task Force on Asset Recovery, FDFA

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, FDFA

Statement by Uzbek civil society activists

We, a group of Uzbek activists, have raised numerous concerns regarding the fate of stolen Uzbek assets owned by Gulnara Karimova. These assets are currently frozen in Switzerland and other European countries. We have made repeated calls for the responsible repatriation of Karimova’s assets to Uzbekistan, under the precondition of anti-corruption reforms to be adopted and implemented in Uzbekistan in the interests of the Uzbek people – the true victims of grand corruption in Uzbekistan. This time, our statement is prompted by another concern: the deepening efforts of Zeromax GMBH’s former creditors to obtain Karimova’s illicit assets as compensation for losses incurred in dealing with Zeromax GMBH. We find these claims to be illegitimate, dubious, and legally questionable.

Background to Zeromax GmbH

Zeromax GmbH was initially registered in Delaware, United States as Zeromax LLC and then moved to Zug, Switzerland registering as Zeromax GmhB from 2005, before being dissolved in 2010. Although Zeromax GmbH was legally owned by Mirdjalil Jalalov and his wife, the company received full and exclusive support from the government of Uzbekistan, allegedly due to Gulnara Karimova. With this privileged support, they rapidly acquired highly lucrative deals, assets and preferential business positions in sectors including: oil and gas extraction, transportation and export, cotton and textile industries, manufacture, soft drinks, mining, food processing. Within a few years, Zeromax became the largest investor into Uzbekistan’s economy, with 22 subsidiaries, an operating revenue of $3 billion, and assets of $1.7 billion (2008). Such a high-level position within the Uzbek economy - a profoundly corrupt environment, deeply embedded within a system of patronage – was impossible to achieve without the Uzbek government’s exclusive support at all levels. Yet, Zeromax faced challenges from rival groups within the Uzbek ruling elite, notably from the National Security Service. As a result, in May 2010, a Tashkent court seized Zeromax’s assets due of tax defaults, and in October of that year, the company was declared insolvent, with creditors left unpaid.

Creditors’ claim

Our understanding is that Zeromax’s unpaid creditors have filed a claim with Swiss authorities urging them to allocate $800 million of Gulnara Karimova’s frozen assets (pending their confiscation) to them, in order to compensate for their losses in Uzbekistan. This claim is based on allegations Gulnara Karimova was the beneficial owner of Zeromax.

In our view, given the role the government of Uzbekistan played in pushing Zeromax to bankruptcy, the creditors should instead direct their claims to the Uzbek authorities who are responsible for Zeromax’s financial problems. The government allowed Zeromax to take control over one lucrative asset after another but then forced the company to fund expensive projects that had nothing to do with commercial business - construction of the Palace of Forum, a stadium, a sport school, various charitable expenses that were probably forced. These projects ultimately went unpaid by the Uzbek government and were a key reason for Zeromax’s indebtedness.

Negligence of Due Diligence, Political Risk and Code of Compliance

We believe Zeromax’s creditors were aware of the dubious background of Zeromax. There was sufficient press coverage well before Zeromax’s bankruptcy that linked Gulnara Karimova to Zeromax. It is highly likely the creditors expected preferential business options, a favorable business environment, and lucrative business opportunities, akin to the expectations of telecom companies (TeliaSonera, Vimpelcom and MTS) had when negotiating shadowy deals with Gulnara Karimova.

Zeromax’s creditors are yet to publicly disclose their identity and announce their claims against Karimova publicly, likely owing to the circumstances surrounding their relationship with Zeromax. They have not presented any public arguments to support their claims that money was stolen from them, not the Uzbek people.

As members of Uzbek civil society, we have a right to know whether creditors violated the code of compliance and failed to meet integrity standards in pursuing business with the company closely associated with the corrupt presidential family. We demand full transparency and disclosure of all contracts and related communication with Zeromax, as well as convincing responses for the following questions:

• Why were political risks of a company associated with a corrupt regime ignored?

• Why was a comprehensive due diligence assessment not undertaken? A rudimentary assessment using open source data would have unearthed Zeromax’s problematic background.

• Why invest millions in a company with only $20,000 of charter capital, and why not protect their business by properly insuring it against the respective risks?

• It is difficult to imagine the creditors were unaware of the political and due diligence risks of engaging with Zeromax; and the fact that Zeromax was controlled by Gulnara Karimova, not Mr. Jalalov.

Suspicion of Fraudulence

There appears to be inconsistencies (to tell the least) with the creditors’ claims. For instance, we have seen an audit report prepared for one of the creditors, the Russian company ETK LLC (in Russian, ООО «ЕТК»;). This document prompts us to suspect of an element of fraud in the claim advanced by this company. The report, a copy of which the Swiss authorities are likely to have, stated ETK had claimed $395 million as compensation for the unpaid delivery of steel pipes to Zeromax. It is clear from the report that there was only one contract between ETK and Zeromax (No. T1/67-06) to the amount of $100 million, and that ETK had complained about payment delay under that contract. ETK claims that, despite of having been unpaid for the previous deal, it entered into a subsequent agreement with Zeromax to deliver pipes for $268 million. Yet the report authors present no proper contract nor contract number identifying the agreement. Looks like the second deal has the key hallmarks of a fraudulent scheme similar to the Russian Laundromat: sign a fake contract and claim a refund for not fulfilling it, followed by kickbacks and money laundering through offshore accounts.

Although the audit report does not provide the full name of ETK, they can be easily identified as Eurasian Pipeline Consortium, LLC (ООО «Евразийский трудопроводный консорциум»;), one of the very few Russian companies selling steel pipes. Interestingly, ETK is in fact re-selling pipes produced by the Khartsyzk pipe plant in Donetsk, a breakaway Ukrainian territory controlled by separatists. A subsidiary of Metinvest, the Khartsyzk pipelie plant is controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. ETK is owned by another company with the same name, Eurasian Pipeline Consortium, LLC, whose main owner is Alexander Karmanov, a shadowy figure close to oligarchs Arkady Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko, both of whom are subject to US and EU sanctions.

Request to Swiss Authorities

We support the Swiss authorities decision to reject the creditors’ claim for Gulnara Karimova’s assets and urge them to maintain this position. As stated, based on the public interest nature of this case, the creditors should provide full public transparency on their past relationships with Zeromax before any compensation deal is considered with the Swiss and Uzbek authorities.

We wish to reiterate our call upon the Swiss authorities to return Gulnara Karimova’s assets to Uzbekistan responsibly. This would include a framework, benchmarked against anti-corruption reforms, that aim to eliminate the institutional conditions which permitted corruption in the telecommunication sector before the assets are returned.

So far, Uzbekistan has made little to zero progress in Uzbekistan’s anti-corruption reforms; and the telecommunication sector is showing the trademark signs of reoccurrence. The government recently issued a decision to grant only one of Uzbekistan’s three major mobile operators (state-owned UMS) direct access to the World Wide Web, thereby undermining fair competition for other operators in the industry (who can only access the internet via state-run Uzbektelecom). In other sectors, especially the construction industry, we also see risks of corruption and money laundering on the rise.

Governance related problems still remain, which underscore the need for a benchmarked approach to guide the return of stolen assets to Uzbekistan, in order to tangibly reduce the risks of grand corruption, misuse of returned assets and support longer-term initiatives for anti-corruption reforms in Uzbekistan.

Dilshod Ahundjanov on behalf of Uzbek Opposition Party, London, United Kingdom

[email protected]

Nadejda Atayeva, on behalf of Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Le Mans, France, [email protected]com

Umida Niyazova, on behalf of Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Berlin, Germany, [email protected]

Jodgor Obid, Uzbek political refugee, resident of Austria

Dilya Erkinzoda, Uzbek political refugee, resident of Sweden

Alisher Abidov, political emigrant, resident of Norway

Alisher Taksanov, journalist, political emigrant, resident of Switzerland

Uzbek Lawmakers Criminalize Begging, With Fines Or Jail Time

Posted on December 29, 2018 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Uzbek lawmakers have tabled a bill in parliament that would prohibit begging in public places across the Central Asian nation.

The draft law, which was proposed by President Shavkat Mirziyoev, was placed on Uzbekistan's official legal information Internet portal on September 3.

Under the proposed legislation, individuals found begging in public places will face up to three years in prison, while those running human-trafficking rings that use children, elderly people, and individuals with disabilities to beg on the streets would face up to five years in prison.

Beggars appeared in Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics in big numbers following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although their numbers have since decreased, many beggars still can be seen at airports, markets, and railway stations across Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s Senate has approved a law that criminalizes begging in public places across the country.

The December 13 vote by lawmakers in the upper house of the Uzbek parliament, or Oliy Majlis (Supreme Assembly), ratified legislation that was proposed by President Shavkat Mirziyoev in September.

The new criminal law imposes fines for begging that range from the equivalent of about $25 to $75.

Those unable to pay the fine face up to 15 days in jail for their first conviction.

Repeat offenders face punishments of up to 240 hours of community service, up to two years of corrective labor, or up to one year in prison.

The legislation also has provisions aimed at criminal groups that organize begging networks using children, the elderly, or disabled people to beg on the street.

Those convicted of leading or coordinating organized begging face up to 360 hours of compulsory public work or a prison term from one to three years.

Under the new law, begging is defined as “actively asking for money, food, and other material assets” in public places.

It specifies that the begging ban applies to streets, all public transport, or other public places such as airports, train stations, parks, markets and shopping centers, stadiums, and cultural heritage sites.

Beggars appeared in large numbers in Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but the number has declined since 2008 due to sustained economic growth.

The Borgen Project, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that fights extreme poverty around the world, says about 4 million of Uzbekistan’s 31 million residents now live below the poverty level.

That’s down from about 10 million people living below the poverty line in 2001, the group says, noting that about 75 percent of those below the poverty level now live in rural areas.

According to Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry, more than 5,000 people in the capital, Tashkent, were identified as beggars during 2018 and sent to rehabilitation centers.

More than 4,000 of them were women -- and more than 3,000 of those women were begging with children beside them.

About 100 men with disabilities and 500 elderly people were identified as beggars in Tashkent during 2018.

Faces 'Crisis Of Legitimacy'

Posted on December 17, 2018 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Two years ago, at an arena in Tashkent, 16 corrupt Uzbek traffic cops were dismissed after being made to sit uncomfortably -- alongside thousands of colleagues -- through a screening of their misdeeds caught on video.

The clips on display at Interior Minister Adham Ahmedbaev's cautionary show for other police officers were mostly supplied by drivers whose dashboard cameras recorded bribery and extortion by police.

Rights activists celebrated the sackings as a rare victory against police abuses in a country where the rule of law frequently carries little weight.

The moment soon turned bittersweet, however, when police officials appeared to declare the use of "dashcams" illegal in Uzbekistan.

But emboldened by a conclusion from a U.S.-based organization of diaspora lawyers that dispenses legal advice pro bono to people in Uzbekistan, which argued that dashcams remained legal under Uzbek law, motorists continued to use them to expose police graft in that Central Asian police state.

That group, Tashabbus (Initiative), and the Qorqmaymiz (We Are Not Afraid) movement are two of a number of organizations that have cropped up online in recent years as a way for Uzbeks living abroad to show their opposition to the long reign of the late President Islam Karimov and frustration with the "old guard" of the Uzbek dissident movement.

"We started these things because we no longer believed in any...of what we call the 'dinosaur opposition,'" says Mirrakhmat Muminov, an early member of We Are Not Afraid and a frequent contributor to its Facebook page, which has more than 15,000 members.

Karimov was accused by Western governments and rights groups of routinely punishing his critics with detention and torture.

Despite hopes for reform under successor Shavkat Mirziyaev, who was sworn in as president on December 14, it is far too early to know whether Karimov's longtime prime minister might opt for even mild democratic reforms or greater commitment to rule of law for Uzbekistan's 30 million or so people.

"With the departure of Karimov and the arrival of Mirziyaev, social disappointment has changed to social expectations," Kamoliddin Rabbimov, a Paris-based, independent analyst of Uzbek affairs tells RFE/RL. "So there is now the start of a crisis of legitimacy for the Uzbek opposition."

We Are Not Afraid's Muminov -- who was granted political asylum in the United States in 2006 after being harassed by Uzbek officials once he returned from his university studies in Britain -- insists that since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan's dissident opposition leaders "haven't done anything."

"They've lost their legitimacy," he insists in an allusion to Uzbek dissidents abroad. "It's time for them to accept that."​

We Are Not Afraid started in August 2014 as an online flash mob with about 50 participants who took pictures of themselves holding a sign saying, "I am not afraid."

"We did it to support freedom of expression in Uzbekistan and to show the government that we are not afraid of them," says Dilobar Erkinzoda, an Uzbek expat in Sweden and founding member of the We Are Not Afraid page on Facebook.

Thousands of Uzbeks -- most of them living abroad but many inside Uzbekistan -- subsequently posted similar photos and took part in debates and discussions about social and political issues on the Qorqmaymiz Facebook page, making statements and posting articles that would in many cases be prohibited in Uzbekistan.

While the Qorqmaymiz movement has a political bent to it, Tashabbus (tashabbus.com) and Uzbek-expat-run social-media sites such as the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Public Control focus on publicizing people's grievances, exposing corruption by government officials, and resolving local problems in Uzbekistan.

Those latter sites appear to skirt politics in favor of confronting problems within post-Soviet Uzbekistan -- whose strongman president ruled for more than two decades until his death three months ago -- from the bottom up.

"We have no [political] affiliation," says Dilorom Abdullaeva, a founder and current president of Tashabbus. "We just help people realize and gain access to justice and the rule of law -- our mission is to...empower citizens with a legal education so that they can know about their rights and basic freedoms and start demanding their rights."

Mirziyaev, who won November's carefully orchestrated presidential election to succeed Karimov after a disputed term as acting leader, has sought to supplant such grassroots sites -- setting up of a phone line and online complaint box for Uzbeks to alert the government to problems.

The official grievance sites have received tens of thousands of messages and prompted public discussions in some cases, and even led to the resolution of some specific problems. At least one lower-level official lost his job after a complaint.

While Qorqmaymiz has flashed hints that it would like to replace more established generations of Uzbek opposition leaders represented by people like longtime exiled Erk Democratic Party leader Muhammad Salih, it does not seem to be in any position to do so.

The group has avoided establishing a strict leadership structure despite what some members describe as internal calls for a hierarchy or an organizational meeting of its membership to establish a set of political goals.

"The Qorqmaymiz people are not afraid -- on Facebook," an Uzbek expatriate who wants to remain anonymous tells RFE/RL. "But they aren't standing in Uzbekistan saying they have no fear. It's not an active opposition group."

The social-media-borne Uzbek opposition abroad is largely made up of individuals who matured politically after Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991. It has provided forums for open dialogue, helpful legal advice, exposed corruption, and allowed Uzbeks to poke a finger in the eye of government, political analyst Rabbimov says, but it is not a threat to spark the kind of action that could transform Uzbekistan's autocratic system.

"The authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan has been and remains tough enough to stop by force any attempted coup," he adds.

Pointing to recent moves by Mirziyaev to open up Uzbek society, such as granting visa-free travel to visitors from 27 countries and suggesting that local and regional officials should be elected instead of appointed, Rabbimov says that Uzbekistan's external opposition may soon find itself marginalized by the new regime.

"We did it to support freedom of expression in Uzbekistan and to show the government that we are not afraid of them," says Dilobar Erkinzoda, an Uzbek expat in Sweden and founding member of the We Are Not Afraid page on Facebook.

Fate of Opposition Parties in Uzbekistan.

Posted on November 25, 2018 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Contrary to what some may believe, Uzbekistan does have a political opposition.

He lives in Tashkent.

With his graying beard, skullcap and the long cotton shirt favored by devout Muslims, 81-year-old Atanazar Arifov looks more like a Sufi sage than a political party boss. But for more than a quarter century he has endured severe persecution for his commitment to activism.

Despite recurrent talk of a wind of liberalization blowing through Uzbekistan, there is no firm evidence the political scene has improved. Only pro-presidential parties are allowed to exist. Grumbling about the government can still land people in jail. And with parliamentary elections looming next year, time is running out for Tashkent to prove it is as committed to reform as it claims.

The fate of Erk, the unregistered party of which Arifov has been general secretary since 2003, may prove the bellwether.

“This was the first political party in the history of post-Soviet Uzbekistan. And now it is imperative we reassert our legal right to exist in the country’s political system,” Arifov told Eurasianet at his small and spartan home in one of Tashkent’s historic mahallahs, or neighborhoods.

Erk came into existence even before the Soviet Union fell. Its founder and leader Muhammad Solih, a poet with marked pan-Turkic positions, even ran in the December 1991 presidential election against Islam Karimov – the man who would go onto rule Uzbekistan for a quarter century, until his sudden death in September 2016.

Karimov crushed his opponent, garnering 86 percent of the vote. He then turned to liquidating Erk as a viable force. Solih was drummed out of the country and his party declared unlawful.

Party members were subjected to intimidation and routinely arrested. Among those mistreated in this way was Arifov, who is a physicist by training.

In December 1992, he was detained while giving a lecture at a university in Tashkent and was later accused of coup-plotting. He was sentenced to five years in prison but released on probation. He was arrested again in February 1994 after police claimed to find a cellophane wrapper containing illegal narcotics during a sweep of his home. That landed him in prison again until he was released in November that same year under a general amnesty.

Undeterred, Arifov persisted with his activism.

“They constantly harassed me and my family. They monitored me day and night. My family suffered. My two sons were arrested on false charges and spent several months in prison. It is a hard lot for opposition parties in Uzbekistan,” he said.

With Erk and any other force dabbling in opposition politics definitively sidelined, Karimov set about creating a malleable handful of fake parties. After years of chopping and changing, Uzbekistan finds itself today with four registered political parties, including the rebranded Communist Party, which now goes by the People’s Democratic Party, the National Revival Democratic Party and the Justice Social Democratic Party.

And then there is the Liberal Democratic Party, or UzLiDeP, which appeared in 2003 and swiftly became the party of power by taking on the role of nominating Karimov and then his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, as presidential election candidates. UzLiDeP is cast as a business-friendly, modernizing party.

Under Karimov, the diversity of parties on offer was essentially a sham. When campaigning for the two-round December 2014 and January 2015 elections, they ostensibly tailored their messages for slightly different electorates, but they were uniformly consensual and pro-government.

“Under Islam Karimov’s rule, there was a complete subordination of independent institutions, so over two and a half decades of oppression, a complete subjugation of society was achieved,” said Nigara Khidoyatova, another would-be independent politician forced into exile.

In 2003, Khidoyatova, a historian, seized on a very brief window of loosening in the political climate, to set up a party called Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Peasants) with the goal of appealing to farmers and rural communities.

“In 2002, a strategic partnership agreement was signed between Uzbekistan and the United States. After that, Karimov promised to allow more freedom to the development of democracy. So we decided to tackle this most important of social questions – the agrarian issue – and we created a farmers’ reform party,” she said.

But that party too was denied registration and was unable to stand in the 2004 parliamentary elections. In the years that followed, Khidoyatova, like Solih, Arifov and countless others before her, began facing harassment. In October 2012, fearing arrest, she left the country. Khidoyatova, who is 54, now enjoys political asylum in the United States.

Mixed signals

The next parliamentary elections should take place at the end of 2019, giving new parties, were any to be legally registered, limited time to marshal their forces.

It is anybody’s guess which way things might be going. Uzbek political analyst Kamoliddin Rabbimov, who is based in France, told Eurasianet that it is too early to say whether the new order wishes to move away from hardline authoritarianism only to install a softer version of the same thing, or whether it wants to transition to genuine democracy.

The mixed signals make it hard to draw definitive conclusions.

In late March, the head of the new-look State Security Service, Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, declared that Erk and another opposition movement that emerged around the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Birlik, stood no chance of being registered by the Justice Ministry. The movements, he argued, were interested in nothing but making trouble.

“Their main goal today is to legalize their activities, and for tomorrow it is disrupt peace and tranquility in our country,” Abdullayev said.

But when Uzbek officials go to the West, they offer a different approach.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Washington on July 25, prominent and veteran Senator Sodiq Safoyev spoke about the dangers to stability posed by “obsolete and misbalanced non-modernized governmental [systems].”

“Strengthening of democracy, broadening of democracy, is the best way to confront the rise of extremism,” he said, as quoted in a Voice of America transcript. “The absence of political opposition and real democracy, perhaps leads to the creating of [a] gray zone, and when people who are not able to express their discontent, their disagreement of some injustice, corruption […] they go to extremism.”

Critics argue that while Mirziyoyev has pushed through sweeping reforms on the economic front, mended frayed ties with Uzbekistan’s neighbors and made some concessions to religious freedoms, other areas have been neglected.

“Mirziyoyev does not want political reforms. He is trying to make cosmetic changes to the country’s political system,” Arifov said.

Even if space were opened up to new and genuine opposition groups, it is not certain that many would be willing to take up the mantle.

"Despite the time [I have spent] in prison and the persecution, I have never given any thought to leaving Uzbekistan. The only thing I regret is that I can find nobody to replace me. Young people are afraid, the fear is still there,” Arifov said

Uzbeks Angry After Homes Demolished To Build Mirziyoev's Presidential Palace, Highway

Posted on November 4, 2018 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Many houses were razed to the ground to make way for the new palatial palace in Tashkent's Qibray district.

TASHKENT -- When Tashkent's sumptuous Oqsaroy (White Palace) was converted into a museum devoted to autocratic Uzbek President Islam Karimov after his death in 2016, successor Shavkhat Mirziyoev needed a fresh new base from which to rule Central Asia's most-populous country.

A palatial mansion was quickly built on a plot of land next to the Chirchik River in the small village of Baytqorqon, outside of the Uzbek capital.

Unfortunately, the land around the new presidential palace was already dotted with dozens of houses inhabited by hundreds of people.

Now many of those unfortunate Uzbeks are angry after their homes were razed and they were displaced to make way for Mirziyoev's new residence and a "presidential highway" leading to it.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev

Many of those forced from their houses by the construction told that they were still waiting for the government's promise of compensation or a new home.

"My house was demolished last week, but no other housing was provided," a 56-year-old housewife, who requested anonymity, told. "We are already cold. Where am I going to live with all my things now?"

"We have neither money nor a new house! Help us," a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Baytqorqon, asking to remain anonymous, wrote. The man said Miragzam Mirqosimov, the governor of Tashkent's Qibray district, had promised the affected families that they'd be given new homes. But he said district officials later told him, "We are unable to provide you with a new house now, stay with your relatives for the time being."

Uzbek officials have told those who have lost their homes to either shelter themselves or get rooms in a local health facility.

'Brazenly Deceived'

"Residents of demolished houses are temporarily placed in a sanatorium or the homes of their loved ones," an official in the Qibray district told, adding, "They will receive a new home or monetary compensation by the end of the year."

One man said he and another family displaced by Mirziyoev's project were moved to new houses near the village of Yangibozor. But they weren't exactly free.

"Two families' houses in our neighborhood were razed as they turned out to be in the way of the [new president's] residence," he told. A former governor of Qibray, he said, promised to provide new houses and "asked me to sign a couple of documents, which I did."

"But today we learned that those papers were mortgage agreements," the man said. "The house 'given' to us turned out to be...only a mortgage loan. The authorities have brazenly deceived us."

An official from the Qibray district denied that allegation, saying the mortgage loan covered the difference between the promised compensation and the cost of the new house, which he said was more valuable.

"The amount [of the mortgage loan] is quite small," he said.

Many of those forced from their houses by the construction say they have still not been properly compensated for the loss of their homes.

To complicate matters, some of the razed homes included large extended families living together, and the state is in some cases providing three-or four-room apartments as compensation.

"Some residents of demolished homes are taking advantage of the moment and are trying to snatch more money from the state," the Qibray government official told, suggesting that people were lying about the number of residents who had been living in a demolished house.

"In one old house they managed to register 10 of their relatives, [and] their married daughters are also registered in their father's house," said the official. "The owners of such houses are asking us to give each of the people registered in their house an apartment."

The main part of Mirziyoev's new residence was officially opened on July 24, 2017 -- the president's birthday -- with a fireworks show and Russian entertainers.

Blue Marble, Swarovski Crystals

An engineer who worked on the residence described some of its opulence to an  reporter.

"During the interior decoration of the residence, blue marble was brought from Argentina, one square meter of which costs $500, as well as Swarovski crystals," he said. "The building was decorated according to the latest design trends."

The presidential compound covers several hectares of land and is encircled by a four-meter-high protective wall.

A birdseye view of President Shavkat Mirziyoev's new palatial residence (marked in red).

But the destruction of villagers' houses is not over yet, as construction continues to widen the road between central Tashkent and the new presidential compound.

An activist in Qibray told that around 200 families in the villages of Argin, Qibray, and Baytqorqon have been told their homes will be razed in the next two months to clear space for the "presidential highway."

The long-serving, palace-loving Karimov also had a suburban mansion, Kuksaroy (Green Palace), and a country residence at Durmen in addition to his main Oqsaroy in central Tashkent.

Uzbek villagers are likely hoping Mirziyoev is satisfied with his new palace and doesn't try to emulate his predecessor by building other mansions.

The role of organised crime in the political life of Uzbekistan

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (12)

How can the EU help in returning stolen assets?

Our research is essentially searching for effective mechanisms of eliminating the sources of corruption. Therefore, I want to draw your attention to a topic that has been studied very little so far – the role of organised crime in the political life of Uzbekistan. I would like to illustrate this topic with examples of the leaders of organised crime: Salimbay Abduvaliev and Batyr Rakhimov. They are known to the public as super-rich people

Batyr Rakhimov,

Uzbekistani oligarch

and debutant singer

with unlimited resources, and over many years they have managed to get preferential treatment from the Uzbekistani head state, which they have used for their personal enrichment. They maintain a monopoly over the most profitable spheres of the Uzbekistani economy, which serve as sources of corruption as well as other crimes.

According to Wikileaks, diplomatic cables of the former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Jon Purnell state that Abduvaliev trades in public positions, whereas ministers of Uzbekistan, give generous gifts to Abduvaliyev's relatives, and the wives of state officials are seen to attend Abduvaliyev's celebrations. Information available to us confirms these observations.

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyayev (on the left)

and "mafia boss" Salimbay shaking hands.

Photo from internet

There are signs that Abduvaliyev remains in the circle of individuals close to the ruling elite in Uzbekistan. He demonstrated active support for Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the last presidential elections. A photo of the mafia boss Salimbay and the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev shaking hands has been circulating on the Internet for almost half a year. Their handshake in public is a clear signal to society that Mirziyoyev gave the criminal boss the right to engage in his “business” under his patronage and on behalf of the state. It is worth noting that soon after the public handshake Salimbay was appointed to the position of Deputy Chairman of the Olympic Committee. Salimbay obtaining an official governmental position can be perceived as granting an official license for racketeering. The existence of a relationship between President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Salimbay makes it clear that the new president of Uzbekistan has links to the transnational mafia.

Salimbay Abduvaliev

- this photo was circulated during

the presidential campaign in 2016

Arguably, one of the reasons that Salimbay is able to continue his activities is his close ties with the National Security Service of Uzbekistan (SNB). He carries out tasks relating to the behind-the-scenes operations of this institution. The attempted assassination of the religious figure Obid Qori Nazarov in 2012 in Sweden demonstrates that the SNB supports Salimbay as a candidate for the position of leader of the sporting organization which serves as a cover for operations aimed at eliminating opponents of the ruling regime living abroad.

Abduvaliev acts through other figures of the underground business world, in particular Batyr Rakhimov. His name deserves special attention. A professional killer by the name of Yuri Zhukovsky was sentenced to life imprisonment in Sweden for the attempted murder of Obid Qori Nazarov. He confessed that he received $ 200,000 from Umid Aminov, (from the city of Bukhara), who is also known as Tigran Kaplanov on his Russian passport, for the attempting to assassinate the religious leader who had fallen out of favour. It transpired that for many years Kaplanov-Aminov has been on the payroll and in the close circle of the oligarch Batyr Rakhimov, who in turn is associated with Salimbay.

Assassin Yury Zhukovsky (on the left)

and Umid Aminov (Tigran Kaplanov)

Photo from Eltuz.com website

The attempted assassination of Obidkhon Nazarov by criminal elements at the orders of the Uzbekistani special services is not an isolated case. In October 2007, hired killers acting on the instructions of the National Security Service killed the well-known journalist Alisher Saipov in Osh (in southern Kyrgyzstan). In Turkey in 2014 Uzbek special services organised the murder of another religious figure, Imam Mirzagolib Khamidov, known among his followers by the name of Abdullah Bukhari. In all these cases, the names of two people come up: Kaplanov and tycoon Batyr Rakhimov.

Salimbay Abduvaliev

and Batyr Rakhimov

As he works in the field of Uzbekistani sports Salimbay and members of his network can easily obtain visas and enter foreign countries, including the countries of the West where Uzbek refugees live. The visas also provide them with opportunities to take illegally acquired assets abroad. Salimbay or his subordinates arrange Schengen visas for these assassins under the guise of these sporting organizations and their international links.

Organisations such as Interpol, Europol and law enforcement agencies of countries where Uzbekistani refugees live should pay careful attention to these supposed sports officials and take adequate measures against them, as well as against the representatives of the Uzbek authorities associated with them.

Is Uzbekistan Becoming A Gangster Paradise?

Posted on September 29, 2018 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (7)

Many things have changed in Uzbekistan in the two years since longtime President Islam Karimov died and Shavkat Mirziyoev came to power.

Many of those changes appear to have been positive. But there have also been some arguably negative developments, including the attitude of Uzbek authorities toward suspected or known underworld figures.

For the first time in about two decades, there has been a gathering in Uzbekistan of the "Vory v Zakone,” or “Thieves-in-Law,” according to Uzbek Sources. The phrase, with roots in Soviet times, is a reference to leaders of prison gangs or groups, many of whom were, or became, bosses of organized criminal groups.

Sources informed us that Bakhtiyar Kudratillaev (aka Bakhti Tashkentsky) invited members of Kazakhstan's and Russia’s criminal underworlds to Uzbekistan to discuss control of organized-crime prison groups in that country.

During Karimov's administration, such groups were generally prevented from thriving locally and had largely disappeared by the end of the 1990s. Kudratillaev remained in Uzbekistan, although he faced charges over the years ranging from the sale of illegal narcotics to weapons possession. He was frequently jailed and was last released from prison in 2014, purportedly for health reasons.

Kudratillaev’s power was believed to have been declining late last year after several arrests of suspected crime figures with whom he was linked, but he apparently retains sufficient stature to have been able to attract alleged kingpins to Tashkent on August 20.

Then there is Gafur Rahimov, an alleged narcotics kingpin who the U.S. Treasury Department put on its sanction list in 2012, describing him as “one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a specialty in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia.

Rahimov left Uzbekistan in 2010, reportedly living mainly in Dubai. He was charged in Uzbekistan with financial crimes and forgery of documents in February 2013. But just a few weeks after Mirziyoev came to power, in September 2016, Rahimov’s name was said to have been removed from Interpol’s wanted list.

In January, Rahimov was named interim president of the International Boxing Federation (IBF), just one month after the U.S Treasury department had frozen the assets of several Thieves-in-Law, including Rahimov. In July, Ozodlik reported that the charges in Uzbekistan of financial crimes and forgery of documents had been dropped. Rahimov does not appear to have returned to Uzbekistan.

And there is Salim Abduvaliev, who describes himself as a successful businessman. Some reports suggest “Salimbay” Abduvaliev owes much of his success to his reputed role as an underworld boss. Prior to Mirziyoev’s election as president on December 4, 2016, a widely circulated photograph appeared to show Abduvaliev wearing a T-shirt with Mirziyoev’s picture on it and the words “My President” written below.

In 2007, the British ambassador for Uzbekistan claimed that Usmanov was “a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail”. He said the 64-year-old’s pardon came under instructions from an alleged drug trafficker.

In response, Usmanov’s legal team allegedly pressured the website to remove the article. They contacted independent blogs and websites asking them to remove all references to the allegations.

Later, Usmanov hired PR company RLM Finsbury, who allegedly edited his Wikipedia entry to remove any references to the above freedom of speech row. They also reportedly removed details of his overturned criminal conviction, and replaced these sections of the page with paragraphs about Usmanov’s charity work.

The company apologised and stated: “This was not done in the proper manner nor was this approach authorised by Mr Usmanov. We apologise for this and it will not happen again.”

This news was initially reported by The Times, but their article on the subject has also subsequently disappeared, and you can now only find references to the initial quotes and story in other publications and websites.

Among the pledges that Mirziyoev has made since coming to power is one to clean up corruption. But the names of infamous figures linked to criminal activities are appearing more frequently since Mirziyoev became president than they did under Karimov.

Uzbekistan: Facebook users detained and questioned

Posted on September 17, 2018 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (7)

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Amnesty International are concerned about a recent wave of detentions and interrogations of dozens of users of the social media platform Facebook in Uzbekistan.

From 24 August to date sources in Uzbekistan have informed our movement that dozens of people have been arbitrarily detained throughout the country and held on administrative charges after they posted comments on their Facebook accounts or 'liked' and shared posts of other social media users.

All the comments appear to relate to cultural and religious issues that the authorities in Uzbekistan consider particularly sensitive, such as the wearing of hijabs (Islamic headscarves), which is prohibited in places of work or schools in Uzbekistan. We are concerned that the authorities in Uzbekistan are trying to clamp down on any discussions on social media critical of the government's cultural and religious policies and legislative initiatives.

Nine of those who were detained are known to be Adham Olimov; Otabek Usmanov; Miraziz Ahmedov; Ziyovuddin Rakhim; Tulkin Astanov; Turabek Baimirzaev; Dilshod Khalilov; Khurshidbek Mukhammadrozykov; and Erkin Sulaimon. Police also briefly detained and questioned three people for four to five hours: Shokir Sharipov (uses name of Muhammad Shakur on the internet); Iskander Sadirov and Malokhat Anvarova (uses name of Ummu Abbos on the internet). According to media reports, of the Facebook users detained were released from custody on 11 September, including Miraziz Ahmedov, Adham Olimov and Dilshod Khalilov, although their computers and telephones were not returned to them.

Several of those detained signed statements undertaking not to participate in any further “suspicious” activities - but without receiving an explanation from law enforcement officials as to what qualifies as “suspicious”. In addition, “suspicious” is not a legally defined term and does not refer to any internationally recognised offence; hence the demand is an arbitrary restriction of the right to freedom of expression.

According to our information, the authorities tracked Facebook users by their IP addresses and then dispatched police officers from the regional anti-terrorism units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to detain them, search their homes and confiscate computer and technical equipment, in most cases without presenting arrest or search warrants. In the cases we are aware of, interrogations at police stations lasted for four hours or more without any legal representatives present and relatives of those detained were not informed of their whereabouts. The charges were often excessive in terms of the alleged offence – for example, someone trying to organize a small-scale protest (picket) was charged with calling for mass unrest.

According to information we have received from sources who cannot be identified because of security concerns, law enforcement officials have arbitrarily charged some detainees with 'failure to comply with the lawful demands of a police officer' under Article 194 of the Code of Administrative Offences. In some of these cases the officers themselves had exceeded their authority and verbally insulted and physically assaulted detainees and subjected them to ill-treatment.

The cases highlighted below show to what extent the Uzbekistani authorities closely monitor social media networks and react to critical posts by private individuals concerning, for example, the prohibition of wearing a hijab or initiatives to hold small scale protests.

Shokir Sharipov – (pseudonym Muhammad Shakur) was arrested on 25 August 2018. He lives in Tashkent region and has 4,879 “friends” on Facebook and 753 followers. He is a wheelchair user. Eight officers from the Department of Internal Affairs of Kibraisky District, Tashkent came to his home to arrest him and take him to the police station. During detention he was reportedly ill-treated, threatened and insulted. His computer, phone and other equipment were confiscated without any warrant or him being given a receipt. Several hours later he was taken back home. According to media reports [11]  he was accused of “inciting mass unrest” and “residing without a residence permit”.

Shortly before he was arrested the following post in Uzbek appeared on Muhammad Shakur’s

Facebook page:

Central to a democratic state are - peaceful demonstrations -pickets. A picket is the expression of any protest by a small group of persons. Four people needed. I am the fifth. We will hold a picket. A peaceful picket. The banners will read: "A headscarf is not a weapon!", "A headscarf is a requirement of our faith!", "Do not trample on our souls!"

Nearly 200 Facebook users ‘liked’ this post and discussions and began sharing it. Legislation in Uzbekistan does not prohibit calling people to attend a picket, which may be the reason that Shokir Sharipov was charged with calling for mass disorder.

Adham Olimov, (internet name Musanif Adham), has 5,601 subscribers to his personal page. He writes about socio-political problems as well as issues of a spiritual and moral character and comments on changes in society. He was arrested by one police officer and eight officials from the Olmazar District Department of Internal Affairs on 28 August at 6:40 pm at his home in the Almazar district of Tashkent. On 29 August he was sentenced to 15 days’ detention by Almazar Administrative Court for the administrative offences of "failure to comply with the lawful requirement of a police officer" and "obstructing the work of police officers". Adham Olimov is currently in custody.

Otabek Usmanov is from Andijan. He came to the attention of the authorities because of his posts on spiritual and moral issues, such as government-imposed restrictions on children being allowed to attend the mosque. According to Fergana News, he was detained at his work at General Motors in Andijan region by representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and held in a cell with a group of women who started an argument with him and lodged a complaint against him with the regional prosecutor’s office. Following the complaint, on 29 August law enforcement officials in Andijan charged him with petty hooliganism and detained him for 15 days.

Ziyovuddin Rahim: Ziyovuddin Kabirov writes under the name Ziyovuddin Rahim and is a theological scholar and author of over 20 religious books. He has 4,975 "friends" and 3,260 followers on Facebook. In his posts he writes about spiritual and moral issues. Little information is available about his detention although it is known that his house was searched when he was arrested and that he is still under arrest at the time of writing.

Additionally Facebook user Tulkin Astanov is known to have been arrested on 24 August and held for ten days in administrative detention.

The whereabouts of Miraziz Ahmedov were unknown for ten days. On 2 September, he wrote on his Facebook page “I've been summoned to the police. Pray for me." The same day he complied with a summons to the district police office and was not seen until he was released on 11 September. News agency Ferghana.Ru quotes sources as saying he is being held at the Department of Internal Affairs in Tashkent. For more than 15 years, Miraziz Ahmedov worked as an interior designer and founded the Miraziz Design Group. In the autumn, this studio planned to open design schools in several cities in Uzbekistan.

He repeatedly spoke about religious topics on Facebook. For example, in response to a government resolution on the introduction of a standard countrywide school uniform, he wrote that if his daughter was forbidden to wear a headscarf to school, she might not attend. He repeatedly condemned what he regarded as the hypocrisy of religious debates and called on users to join a group to defend the rights of Muslims in Uzbekistan.

Although information about the detentions of these users of social networks continues to arrive from Uzbekistan, it has proved difficult to follow up the current situation of those in detention and even of those briefly detained, as they decline to comment. Their families have likewise declined to speak about the detentions. We are concerned that this indicates that they have been put under pressure by the authorities not to speak to media or human rights observers.

On 5 September the Ministry of Justice issued a press release outlining the establishment of a register of banned sites to include those which publish information calling for violent overthrow of the constitutional system; propagate violence, terrorism and religious extremism, provide confidential information on state secrets or laws; and which incite national, ethnic or religious hatred or harm the honour or dignity or citizens. Given the restrictive context for freedom of expression in Uzbekistan, we are concerned that this and other recently announced measures regulating and restricting access to internet sites which are considered to distribute such types of information could lead to more violations of human rights and further arbitrary detentions of users who visit such sites.

We call on the Uzbekistani authorities to:

— Immediately and unconditionally release from detention all those who are detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression;

— Investigate reports that police officers ill-treated internet users during arrest and administrative detention;

— Bring national legislation governing online as well as printed and broadcast media fully into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations and ensure full respect for the right to freedom of expression in law and in practice;

— Ensure unrestricted access to online information resources, including national and international news sites, social networks and CSO websites.

— Ensure that there are no restrictions on social networks, the media and literature except those which are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for protection of the rights of others or specified public interests as set out in international law.

— Ensure that journalists, writers and individuals can work freely without fear of retribution for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government deems sensitive.

'Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist' Article by Criag Murray, Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan

Posted on September 1, 2018 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (14)

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

'Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.'

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. he is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here:


Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

The Convicted Criminal Alisher Usmanov

For the first time yesterday the mainstream media had the guts to take on billionaire Alisher Usmanov, whose hyperactive libel lawyers succeeded for a few days in closing this blog down.

Channel 4 yesterday showed a Dispatches programme on the Russian oligarchs, which for the first time in Bruitish mainstream media put the case that Arsenal shareholder Usmanov is a convicted blackmailer and racketeer. You can see the programme here:


Sadly I cannot see it in Ghana (I get a not available in your area message) so I do not yet know how much of my own interview in the programme got past the Channel 4 layers. It is however typical of Usmanov that I can find not a single comment on the programme in the mainstream media or even in any of the Arsenal blogs. All of the major Arsenal blogs have in the past received threatening letters from Schillings, Usmanov’s solicitors.

I shall be posting at the end of this week on a US racketeer, Gene E Phillips, and his corrupt – and so far succesful – attempt to rip off billions of dollars from the poor people of Ghana. I gave an interview on this to the FT last week and I am hopeful they will be running a less detailed expose on Thursday, on which I will follow up.

Meantime, it is worth noting that libel bullies the Quilliam Foundation and their pathetic lawyers Clarke Willmott seem to have skulked away. Not one of the individuals – including Jack Straw, Tim Spicer, Allisher Usmanov and Ed Hussain – who has set the lawyers onto this blog has ever dared to go to court.

That is because this blog does not libel, it tells the truth, and not one of them dares to face the truth in court, even with England’s notoriously oppressive libel laws on their side.

On principles of responsible asset repatriation to Uzbekistan

Posted on August 16, 2018 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (8)

Federal Assembly of Switzerland

Swiss Federal Council

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)

Federal Department of Justice and Police

Task Force on Asset Recovery, FDFA

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, FDFA


Proposal by Uzbek civil society activists

We are a group of Uzbek activists citizens concerned about the future of our country. We write because we understand the Swiss government may soon negotiate the return of several hundred million Swiss francs that were stolen from the people of Uzbekistan through corruption in the country’s telecom sector and hidden in Swiss banks. We urge the government of Switzerland to ensure that these assets are returned responsibly to Uzbekistan. By responsibly, we mean in ways that provide remedy to the citizens of Uzbekistan as the true victims of grand corruption and that ensure concrete measures to eliminate systematic corruption in Uzbekistan.

The need for responsible repatriation of stolen assets

Repatriation of stolen assets is responsible if it contributes to the fight against corruption on global and national levels.

Grand corruption in Uzbekistan is endemic and penetrates all levels of the political, administrative, legal, corporate, and financial institutions. A clear correlation is seen between corruption at the highest levels and the gross violations of human rights.

Therefore, a cautious asset return policy should be pursued. There is a high risk that without anti-corruption mechanisms in place unconditional return of the proceeds of corruption will very likely lead to funds being stolen once again and recycled anew into western and offshore jurisdictions.

Unconditional return of the proceeds of corruption would violate both the word and spirit of the UN Convention against Corruption, international human rights law, and the global framework for fighting corruption. UNCAC requires the return of stolen assets to the countries of their origin. States however cannot selectively comply with UNCAC provisions; they must comply with all provisions, including those requiring the establishment of anti-corruption prevention mechanisms.

If asset-holding states fail to ensure that the return of the proceeds of corruption serves as a deterrence to future crimes, this must be considered irresponsible, if not complicit with perpetuating corruption in the requesting state.

Proposed principles of asset restitution to Uzbekistan

At the Global Forum on Asset Recovery in December 2017, representatives of the Swiss and other governments agreed to principles to guide asset return. Among other things, the governments pledged that the return should guarantee transparency and accountability in the use of the assets returned, benefit the citizens of the receiving country, strengthen the receiving nation’s ability to fight corruption, and ensure civil society participation in the return and use of funds.

Below we propose eight guidelines that emphasize and elaborate on these principles in the context of any return of stolen assets to Uzbekistan:

1. The asset return should be considered in the context of, and contribute to, the fight against corruption and human rights violations on global and domestic levels and meet standards of transparency and accountability.

2. Therefore, there should be no return of assets without sound conditions and mechanisms to prevent the assets being stolen again.

3. The asset return should serve as remedy for the victims of corruption, i.e., the entire population of Uzbekistan.

4. The best remedy for victims is not compensation – which would neither be practical (with Uzbekistan’s specific institutional environment) nor have any lasting long-term, systemic effect – but rather measures to reduce the scale of corruption and human rights abuse in Uzbekistan.

5. Asset return should be used as an incentive to reform those specific institutional conditions that were and remain driving factors for the original crimes – bribery and extortion in the telecom sector of Uzbekistan – and consequent money laundering. Below we identify five such institutional conditions.

6. Reforms cannot be implemented overnight, and will require several years. Therefore, the restitution process should be extended over time and follow a step-by-step approach, rewarding Uzbekistan for making benchmarked and measurable progress in realizing reform.

7. Provided the principles 1-6 are satisfied, the Government of Uzbekistan should have control and ultimate approval over the disposition of the assets, following a transparent process inclusive of consultations with relevant international stakeholders and Uzbek civil society. The implementation of these principles would create a completely new reality in Uzbekistan in terms of the governance system and, as such, give sufficient assurances that the assets are not re-stolen and re-laundered.

8. In case the government of Uzbekistan rejects these guidelines, the Swiss government should keep the assets until the Uzbek leadership accepts the deal and has shown legitimate and verifiable progress.

Five institutional sectors to be reformed as prerequisite for asset return

1) Establish a transparent and competitive tendering process, including in the spheres of allocation of frequencies and licenses, the public procurement of goods, public works, and contracted services. Publish all material related to public procurement and concession contracts in the public domain.

2) Reform the public administration to make sure civil servants carry out the duties of their role, abide by the law, and work in the public interest instead of acting out of personal loyalty to high-ranking officials. With this in mind, implement a conflict of interest regulation for all civil servants and government officials in Uzbekistan and provide full transparency of their income.

3) Establish independence of judiciary and legal profession; enforce the rights for fair trail and due process;

4) Ensure transparency of public and corporate finance, including: obligatory auditing of state and its major corporate contractors by reputable international auditors and the full publication of such audit reports in the public domain; disclose government books to the public, with an emphasis on export revenues; and administer a transparent system of corporate disclosure, with a requirement that all corporate entities operating in Uzbekistan participate in a public register of beneficial owners.

5) Provide oversight including through the establishment of an independent public anti-corruption agency; and allow civil society and media outlets to freely operate and conduct journalist investigations without fear of harassment and repressions.

We note there are many widely recognized international indicators available that would measure governments’ progress in meeting these objectives (see annexed below discussion of Indicators for Gaging the Progress of Reform in Uzbekistan, prepared by members of the Working Group on Responsible Asset Repatriation).

Why specifically these five institutional conditions?

The complete absence of institutional integrity in the five sectors mentioned above were key enabling factors for the original corruption case. As such, these areas should be addressed as prerequisites for returning the proceeds of corruption to the Government of Uzbekistan. But what is right for the telecom industry can also be applied to other sectors of economy.

First, Uzbekistan did not at that time and still does not have an established system for transparent and competitive tendering processes, neither in allocating frequencies and licenses, nor in public procurement. Given the absence of transparent public procurement, it is very likely that unless appropriate reforms are implemented, the returned assets will be redistributed via opaque lucrative procurement contracts, a frequent practice if not the rule for use of public funds in Uzbekistan.

Second, Gulnara Karimova did not act alone in extorting bribes from telecom companies in exchange for issuance of operating licenses. Karimova would have been unable to carry out the original crimes without involvement of a number of government institutions. A number of high ranking officials were directly involved in issuing these licenses, and these individuals acted out of personal loyalty to herself and her father, former president Islam Karimov. This highlights the systemic impact of the patronage system upon how public office was and still is run, and the total absence of conflict of interest regulation in Uzbekistan. It also demonstrates the lack of a civil service which works in the public interest and can withstand pressure from high ranking corrupt officials.

Third, it is notable that from the very beginning, western telecom companies sought back-door deals with local officials, instead of relying on judicial measures and legal means to engage in and protect their business and property rights. We understand western companies were well aware of the absence of rule of law and independent judiciary in the country.

Fourth, the public and corporate finance systems in Uzbekistan are extremely opaque. Neither the state itself nor its major corporate contractors are under obligation to open their finances to scrutiny by reputable auditors. Additionally, the state budget does not reflect income from export revenues the government controls, such as revenues from the cotton sector – linked to forced labor and human rights violations. Instead, these revenues go into hidden extra-budgetary accounts controlled by a few individuals around the President, and are used at the discretion of political elites on expenditures unknown to the public. It is unfortunately very likely that an unconditional return of assets to Uzbekistan will leave the state susceptible to repeating such practices; with the funds remaining absent from the state budget.

Fifth, essential monitoring, oversight and compliance institutions are absent. Uzbekistan does not have an independent anti-corruption state agency capable of independently detecting and preventing cases of government corruption. Uzbekistan also lacks an independent organized civil society – following a large-scale crackdown between 2004and2007 – or an independent press that would be able, without fear of repression or reprisal, monitor, document and report on corrupt practices, especially on cases of grand corruption. Activists and journalists who tried in the past to report on such cases were detained, tortured and imprisoned. While some of these journalists and activists have been recently released from prison, which constitutes a positive sign, they are still subject to reporting requirements, harassment, and other conditions inconsistent with full rehabilitation by the state. Nor have they been compensated by the state for their unjust imprisonment. In fact, legally, these individuals are still considered criminals according to the judicial system of Uzbekistan, and the original miscarriage of justice has not been addressed.

Our demand for serious changes in these five areas as part of the process for returning assets to Uzbekistan should not be seen as confrontational towards the government. The Uzbek political leadership has itself committed to reforms in these areas and has even made a few steps forward. For instance, a draft law on public administration has already been published, which still needs to be adopted and, more importantly, implemented. There has been also one case of fair trial open to the public (in March-April 2018, trial of Bobomurod Abdullaev and two others). So far, this is a single such precedent. Besides, there are some indications of opening for Uzbek press to report on controversial issues, though the press does not still dare to conduct journalist investigations into corruption cases. These positive signs do not yet represent fundamental or irreversible change. What is needed in Uzbekistan is not promise and rhetoric of change, but a sustained pathway to reform and the adoption of standards of good governance.

It still remains to be seen whether the government will adopt a full package of anti-corruption reforms and, more importantly, implement new legislation into actual practice. We believe that each significant step and improvement in these five areas should be rewarded, with a corresponding portion of assets returned to the government. Such a sequenced, benchmarked approach to restitution would be perfectly in line with the course of reform to which the new Uzbek political leadership has publicly committed, notably within Uzbekistan’s Development Strategy (2017-2021). The return of assets should reinforce the process of reforms, offering a guarantee that they will become sustainable and, over time, irreversible.

Why not a Bota Fund-like solution?

We believe that the creation of the Bota Foundation in 2009 as a channel for restituting Kazakhgate money to the people of Kazakhstan was the right decision. The latest restitution by Switzerland to Kazakhstan of $48 million, in 2012, was, by contrast, much worse, from the point of view of principles of responsible return.

An investigation was conducted into USD 21.76m of the restituted assets earmarked for a Youth Corps Program. It revealed that the Project Coordinator for the Youth Corps Program is a consortium made up of Government Organized NGOs (GONGOs). The consortium is headed by the President’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who is a politician in her own right. This GONGO consortium will receive approximately USD 465,000 for its services as Project Coordinator. “From the limited available procurement data, - write the authors of the summary report, - examples have been uncovered of lavish spending on promotional material, awards to the ruling party’s youth wing, expenditure on materials that have a propagandistic function, and the selection of ‘host organizations’ that are predominantly GONGOs, some of which are run directly by public officials and politicians espousing strong commitment to the President’s national ideology.” [1] This resulted in restitution benefiting the ruling party and senior officials of Kazakhstan, but not the victims of corruption.

Under the current state of affairs in Uzbekistan, the Bota Fund-like solution cannot be applied without violating the principles of transparency and accountability and responsible return, because the conditions for operation of such a fund, independent from the government, do not exist.

First, the Bota Fund in Kazakhstan operated through allocation of grants to local NGOs which, in turn, delivered financial and technical assistance to low-income families. In Uzbekistan, such independent NGOs simply do not exist. Between 2004 and 2007, the relatively independent NGOs were suppressed, leaving Uzbekistan with no independent organized civil society. Due to repression inflicted by the Karimov regime, there are currently no stakeholders in Uzbekistan who could either provide Bota-like services to the population or conduct independent monitoring of how these funds are being used.

Second, in the current absence of a transparent tendering and public procurement process in Uzbekistan, there is a very high probability that the money will be channeled through lucrative contracts to cronies of political elites, and thus stolen once more. Examples of such shadowy deals on the allocation of contracts on construction and reconstruction in Tashkent are multiple nowadays.

Third, without a transparent system of public finance, the government can manipulate the use of the returned assets. For example, it could cut funding it had planned to provide for health, education, and other social projects, divert these funds to private interests, and employ the returned assets to cover the gap in public funds. By shifting funds this way, the intended restitution would bear no positive effect for the people of Uzbekistan.

Finally, we believe that using the assets to reinforce anti-corruption reforms will be most beneficial for the victims of corruption and the development of Uzbekistan over the long term, supporting systemic, transparent institutional reforms with lasting effect.

A number of local Uzbek activists support these proposals, but their names are not disclosed out of concerns over their safety.

Hit By Criminal Accusations, World Amateur Boxing Chief Fights To Clear His Name

Posted on August 3, 2018 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (10)

The controversial, self-exiled Uzbek sports administrator tasked with saving Olympic boxing from corruption and match-fixing allegations has been dropped from Uzbekistan's "wanted list" of alleged criminals.

But Gafur Rakhimov, interim president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), still faces a criminal investigation in Uzbekistan into allegations of alleged extortion, laundering millions of dollars from an organized criminal organization, and forging documents.

The interim chief of amateur boxing's world governing body also remains on the U.S. Treasury Department's sanctions list as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals," an alleged key figure in the global heroin trade, and alleged links to a notorious international criminal network known as "thieves-in-law."

Uzbek Service has obtained a copy of a July 10 decree issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office in Uzbekistan that removes Rakhimov from its list of "wanted" individuals.

The document stipulates that Rakhimov will not be detained for questioning if he returns to Uzbekistan, which he fled in 2010 after falling out with the government of then-President Islam Karimov and having his import-export businesses confiscated by the state.

However, Rakhimov would be required to report voluntarily to authorities in Tashkent for questioning upon his return.

Uzbek authorities tell that Rakhimov has expressed his readiness to return to his homeland in order to "clear his name."

That would bolster Rakhimov's attempts to be removed from the U.S. sanctions list and make it easier to be elected as the next AIBA president in November when the organization meets in Moscow to choose the interim president's successor.

No Charges, But Case Not Closed

Criminal charges have never been filed against Rakhimov in Uzbekistan -- a former Soviet republic where judicial procedures prevent charges in such cases against suspects who have not been questioned by law enforcement.

Criminal investigations like the one formally launched against Rakhimov in 2013 also cannot be closed until authorities question the suspect.

With Rakhimov living in Dubai and Moscow since 2010, prosecutors in Tashkent have not been able to interview him directly.

The decree removing Rakhimov from Uzbekistan's "wanted" list was signed by Shohmuhammadbek Muhammadjonov, the head of the Prosecutor-General's Office for Investigations into Serious Crimes.

Its authenticity has been confirmed by senior law enforcement officials in Tashkent.

Muhammadjonov states in the decree that "there are no grounds" for concern that Rakhimov would "abscond from the investigation" against him or from the courts if he returns to his homeland.

He says that's because "the accused G.A. Rakhimov is well known. He has a permanent residence and work" in Dubai, is married, and is the interim president of amateur boxing's world governing body.

An Uzbek law enforcement official familiar with the investigation against Rakhimov, speaking on condition of anonymity, told that Rakhimov himself requested that he be removed from Uzbekistan's wanted list "on the grounds that he has cooperated with the investigation and did not interfere with establishing the truth."

"There are no barriers to his return," the official said. "On the contrary, we ourselves are interested because it will help our investigation even more" if we can interview him directly.

Rakhimov has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from about the allegations against him in Uzbekistan or those published by the U.S. Treasury Department as justification for sanctions against him.

But in May, the AIBA announced that Rakhimov instructed his lawyers at Ferrari & Associates in Washington and Carter-Ruck in London to file a petition for his removal from the U.S. sanctions list.

"The move to engage two legal powerhouse firms shows that he is serious about proving his innocence in the face of what he called ‘fabricated media allegations of criminal associations that do not exist'," the AIBA statement said.

Rakhimov said in the statement: "I have never been associated with any organized crime group, and I have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime by the authorities in any jurisdiction in the world."

Olympic Boxing Scandals

Rakhimov's appointment as the AIBA's interim chief on January 27 followed a multi-million-dollar financial scandal over an unpaid loan received by the AIBA from a state-owned construction firm in Azerbaijan.

Bitter infighting within the AIBA also was ignited by widespread match-fixing allegations at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where all 36 AIBA referees and judges were suspended over questionable decisions that often favored Russian and Uzbek boxers.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said after Rakhimov's appointment that the IOC was "extremely worried about the governance of ABIA" and "reserves the right" to cut boxing from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Bach also announced an IOC corruption investigation into AIBA governance, noting that the IOC had frozen millions of dollars in TV broadcast payments to the AIBA and had broken off all contacts "except the ones on a working level necessary" to clean up corruption.

In his AIBA interim president acceptance speech in Dubai, Rakhimov told national boxing federation delegates from around the world that they must all be "united to defend the sport" and "work closely with each other to restore confidence in the AIBA's financial management," its "integrity," and its "credibility with the IOC."

In a June 28 statement, Rakhimov said that the "AIBA is making fantastic progress forward."

On July 13, the AIBA launched what it called a "new foundation plan" on future "governance, events, rules, development, and communication" as part of its bid to prevent boxing from being dropped from the 2020 Olympics.

"We are confident that the new foundation plan provides us with a strong basis to build our future and will allow AIBA to continue to develop our sport on all levels and in all continents," Rakhimov said in a July 13 statement.

There was no immediate public response from the IOC about that plan.

The IOC president's latest public statement on concerns about AIBA reforms was in May when Bach said amateur boxing's governing organization has been slow in implementing reforms needed to avoid being banned from the 2020 Olympics.

"Our concerns on governance, financial, and sporting integrity are continuing and we think that we need to see action on the plans," Bach said.

Unraveling Grand Corruption in Uzbekistan - Report.

Posted on July 14, 2018 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (10)

The problem with unraveling grand corruption is that once you begin to tug on a string — a specific individual, perhaps — the whole tapestry could come off the wall. Every thread is tied to another in a nigh-impossible mess of personal and business connections, shell companies with hidden owners, international actors with conflicting interests, and somewhere crushed beneath this writhing mass: the people whose small businesses are stolen, whose relatives are tortured, whose government institutions have been subverted from the inside to serve only a small cadre at the top.

In Uzbekistan, few are as associated with corruption as Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the country’s first president, the late Islam Karimov. But as a new report demonstrates, Karimova was simply one thread in a teeming tapestry. In A Dance With the Cobra: Confronting Grand Corruption in Uzbekistan, researchers detailed how the government of Uzbekistan acted as an organized crime network. The 100-page report, published by the International State Crime Initiative, based at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), aimed to systematically document corruption in Uzbekistan and critically examine the role of state agencies in facilitating the illegitimate parts of Karimova’s business empire. The report also aimed to draw out the international infrastructure used by what the authors deem the Karimova Syndicate as well as the connection between human rights abuses and corruption.

Ultimately, the report is clearly directed at influencing those who are to decide what happens to more than $850 million in financial assets frozen through the course of legal proceedings regarding a massive telecommunications bribery scandal, which began breaking in 2012 and precipitated Karimova’s fall from grace. The $850 million frozen by the United States is currently subject to negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice and Uzbekistan, with Tashkent claiming the funds ought to be returned to the state, and the state’s critics arguing a more cautious return ought to be pursued, ensuring the millions benefit the real victims: the people of Uzbekistan.

The report is incredibly detailed. The authors systematically examined documentary sources like case files, judicial and arbitration decisions, plea deals, audit reports, and corporate registry records as part of constructing and making sense of the network which stemmed out from Karimova. Importantly, the authors took advantage of modern digital technology to examine social networks and map transactions. When the tapestry begins unraveling, it’s easy to lose track of the pieces. And the Karimova Syndicate had ties around the world.

The report not only offers a comprehensive analysis of the criminal network operating out of Tashkent, but eight in-depth cases studies and a concentrated look at who the victims are. Furthermore, the report examines the principles of transitional justice (TJ) and transformative justice and how they may be applied to the Uzbekistan case.

Rather than retell the case studies — which detail exactly how this Syndicate worked in practice and the people it crushed along the way — I’ll focus on discussing three themes worth keeping in mind while reading the report (which I very much encourage).

First, it is not all about Gulnara. The authors make clear up front that focusing on Gulnara has, to a great extent, allowed the rest of the network to remain obscured. Inordinate focus on the “Uzbek princess” has allowed “the extensive supporting cast of offshore banks, foreign advisers, and secrecy jurisdictions, implicated in her activities” and “the systematic forms of state violence and institutionalied racketeering” to avoid the spotlight. Gulnara did not, alone, rob the Uzbek people and their business partners of hundreds of millions of dollars. The entire state apparatus was birthed at independence from an already deeply corrupt Soviet system, and manned by a dictator who brooked no dissent. A system like that does not form overnight, nor can it be reformed in short order.

Second, it is not Uzbekistan alone which ought to be criticized; and Tashkent is not the only capital in desperate need of reform. The report’s main author, Kristian Lasslett, explained the phenomenon of Western fingerprints on Uzbek corruption previously for The Diplomat. Karimova’s network was grafted onto, and could not operate without, permissive international financial networks. Grand corruption, the report notes, “thrives on a permissive international framework of shell companies, banks, asset warehouses, and professional/corporate collaborators, which allow the looted funds to be extracted, laundered, anonymied and invested in offshore locations.”

Just as Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw detail in their regional study — Dictators Without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia — Central Asia is no isolated backwater. Instead its elites are intimately familiar with the dark ways of international finance. From corporate services provided in Switzerland and China, to bribes paid by companies in the Netherlands and Russia, to American professional services and British financial services, the Karimova Syndicate had truly global connections. Key offshore companies were established in the UAE, Switzerland, Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong; and banks allegedly employed by Karimova include British banks (HSBC in Jersey, Standard Chartered in Hong Kong) and a U.S. bank (the Dubai branch of Citibank), among others in Switzerland and Latvia. Companies accused in court of baying bribes to Karimova include Coca Cola, Vimpelcom, TeliaSonera, and MTS, among others.

Lastly, the entire report drives toward the issues of justice and recompense. In the short term, the report recommends against directly returning frozen assets to the Uzbek government. Instead, the authors urge for a trust-like solution “underpinned by robust oversight mechanisms, a representative board from civil society, and transparent reporting requirements.” The authors also point out that because the state has persecuted individuals so heavily and for so long, a great number of the “victims” have left the country. These exiles, spread around the world, ought to be included in the conversation. This process should not, the authors say, exclude state officials. “It is important,” they write, “where possible, that the conversations and actions facilitated through the trust, take into account state initiated reform efforts, through constructive dialogue.”

The crimes of the Karimova Syndicate were aided and abetted by the state, and the state must take an active role in reforming the systems and practices which allowed grand corruption to flourish. The new Uzbek government, which has made efforts to position itself as distinct from that which came before, has high hurdles of trust to surmount in this pursuit. It is simple enough to talk the talk of reform; but can Tashkent walk the walk?

Here is the link for PDF form of report: http://statecrime.org/state-crime-research/state-crime-researchers-expose-role-of-western-companies-in-uzbek-corruption-scandal/

Old Suspected Gulnara Karimova letter reveals Uzbek State Crimes against her.

Posted on July 1, 2018 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (6)

Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's president, used to be one of the most powerful people in Central Asia. Last year she fell from grace - but remained active online until five weeks ago. Since then, she has been silent.

The long rambling letter in my inbox is littered with signs of distress. "I am under severe psychological pressure, I have been beaten, you can count bruises on my arms," reads one line.

Another paragraph describes a life under house arrest, daily threats and constant observation from cameras and police.

The letter was sent from Uzbekistan, one of the world's most isolated and repressive states, as an attachment from an anonymous person who described himself as someone "trying to restore justice". The sender said the letter had been written in the last few days and smuggled out to him, but refused to give details.

It is impossible to live like a human when you are watched by cameras, when there are armed men everywhere and when you are depressed because of what you have seen...

It is unsigned, but the level of detail and insight, the convoluted style and the neat Russian handwriting suggests that the author is no dissident, but Gulnara Karimova, once talked about as a possible successor to her father, Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

"How naive I was to think that the rule of law exists in the country," reads one line of the letter.

An analysis comparing part of the letter with a sample of handwriting known to be Karimova's concluded there was a high probability (75%) that the letter was indeed written by her.

"Working without originals, it is almost impossible to achieve a 100% match with handwriting, but there is a very high probability that the two notes were written by the same person," says Inessa Goldberg, an Israel-based expert who specialises in Cyrillic handwriting.

The letter sheds new light on the spectacular downfall of one of Uzbekistan's most influential figures, and her battle against key members of the regime, which has unfolded live for the world to see on Twitter.

For the last 14 months, Karimova, once described in leaked US diplomatic cables as a "robber baron" and "the most hated person" in Uzbekistan, has tweeted about her falling-out with her strongman father, and its consequences - the closure of her businesses and TV stations, the shutting down of her charity and arrests of her supporters.

Karimova's supporters have posted photos of men apparently guarding a wall around her home

As Karimova's empire crumbled she became openly critical of key figures in the regime, and especially her father's top security man Rustam Innoyatov, whom she accused of trying to seize power.

From time to time she and I exchanged tweets. In a country where internet and media are censored, her Twitter feed provided an unprecedented insight into events that could previously only have been guessed at. But on 16 February she went quiet. Her Twitter account has since been suspended.

Karimova's last tweet was sent out just a day before Uzbek police stormed a luxury apartment in the capital, Tashkent, arresting a group of people that no law enforcement officer in Uzbekistan would previously have dared to touch.

The letter provides a first-hand account of the police operation and its aftermath. "What makes it all worse, is that it is impossible to live like a human when you are watched by cameras, when there are armed men everywhere and when you are depressed because of what you have seen: special forces jumping on to the roof, your things in a mess, broken windows and doors and worst of all: a blindfolded person who is being dragged along the floor," it says.

A closer look showed me all the ugliness of what goes on here... I realise that all of it has been happening for a long time

The "blindfolded person" is likely to have been Rustam Madumarov, Karimova's business partner and, reportedly, her boyfriend, who was arrested that night along with two of her closest associates. The same day the three were charged with embezzlement, tax fraud, illegal possession of foreign currency and money laundering.

In fragmented, erratic, at times difficult-to-understand language, Karimova describes how in the last few weeks "hundreds, possibly already thousands" of her supporters and former employees have been intimidated, arrested and threatened.

She says she has been isolated from them for being a disseminator of inconvenient "unnecessary truth". There is no television, no internet, no telephone in her house, she says, and she is worried about her daughter who is ill.

A source in Tashkent who is close to Karimova confirmed that she is currently under house arrest and that her 16-year-old daughter, Iman, is being held with her. The man, who didn't want to be identified, also said that US embassy staff have visited Iman, who is an American citizen. (Her father, Karimova's ex-husband Mansur Maqsudi, is an American citizen of Afghan origin.)

"Don't use that idiotic line 'dictator's daughter'," she told me and Andrew Stroehlein of Human Rights Watch, in one of her first tweets - adding that she would prefer to be referred to by name.

How do you solve a problem like Googoosha?

The US embassy in Tashkent refused to confirm the visit, saying in a written reply "as a matter of policy it was unable to comment on this specific inquiry". The statement added: "As a general policy the Department of State and our diplomatic missions abroad have no higher priority than assuring the welfare and safety of American citizens abroad."

Throughout the letter, Karimova makes allegations against her mother, her sister and some of her father's closest allies. She accuses them of racketeering, blackmail and torture.

"The reason for this Pinochet-style persecution is that I dared to speak up about things that millions are quiet about," she writes.

But for many, Karimova's attacks about her family and others will strike a hypocritical note. Gulnara, as most Uzbeks call her, has long been the glamorous face of the regime she now criticises. She ran a business empire, became the country's best-known pop star (under her stage name, Googoosha) and its foremost patron of fashion, art and design, created a perfume line, became the country's chief philanthropist, and served as its ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Over the years I have interviewed a number of Uzbeks who have lost livelihoods to rackets operating under her name.

She paints herself as a victim, and her father as someone who has been manipulated

Daniil Kislov

In 2012, a group of Swedish journalists uncovered evidence which led them to conclude that a Swedish-Finnish telecom company, TeliaSonera, had paid a $300m bribe in 2008 to enter Uzbekistan's lucrative mobile-phone market. The money was traced to an offshore company registered in Gibraltar and owned by 25-year-old Gayane Avakyan, who was one of the two female associates detained along with Karimova's boyfriend and fellow pop-star Rustam Madumarov on 17 February.

It has since become the biggest corruption case in Sweden's history, and on Monday Gulnara Karimova became an official suspect.

The investigation now involves 10 other European countries and the US. Two weeks ago, Swiss authorities announced they had also launched a money-laundering investigation into Karimova.

Gulnara has always denied any involvement in TeliaSonera, and the company itself denies any wrongdoing. In her letter, she once again insists the campaign against her was headed by her father's security chief, Innoyatov.

"She paints herself as a victim, and her father as someone who has been manipulated," says Daniil Kislov, 

Kislov believes no-one but Karimov himself could have given the order to put his daughter under a house arrest or detain her closest friends. He says that the Uzbek strongman is punishing his daughter for the excesses of her lifestyle.

"The last 15 years have shown that Karimov couldn't care less about the international criticism of human rights in Uzbekistan, about torture in prisons, forced sterilisations in government hospitals, child labour in cotton fields," says Daniil Kislov.

What Karimov does care about, Kislov argues, is the damage Gulnara's reputation as a robber baron has done to Uzbekistan's ability to attract foreign investment, which for a while she appeared to monopolise. The arrests, Kislov suggested, were Karimov's way of telling his unruly daughter and the world that in Uzbekistan, he is the one in charge.

But is the decision to lock Gulnara up also a sign of Karimov's weakness? It certainly suggests he is worried about the damage that his outspoken and well-informed daughter could cause.

And despite the fact that Gulnara's internet has been turned off, she is still managing to get her voice heard. Since sending her message to me, she has leaked another to Uzbek media in which she asks her father to let her leave the country for medical treatment.

"I never thought this could happen in a civilised, developing nation that Uzbekistan portrays itself as," she says in her letter to me.

"But a closer look showed me all the ugliness of what goes on here, and listening to people whom I would argue with before, I realise that all of it has been happening for a long time."

Though few Uzbeks will believe in Karimova's transformation into a defender of their rights, this message will resonate with many.

Open letter of civil society organizations to the Swiss government

Posted on June 23, 2018 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (6)

The Swiss government should not return assets stolen from the people of Uzbekistan to its government until the Swiss government reviews its return policies in light of reported irregularities in the use of assets Switzerland previously returned to the Kazakh government

We, the undersigned representatives of civil society organizations advocating for transparent and responsible repatriation of assets stolen from the Uzbek people, are urgently calling upon the Swiss government to ensure that any decision regarding the ill-gotten assets of Gulnara Karimova, currently the subject of litigation in several countries, be made with due consideration to the rights and development prospects of the Uzbek people.

We urge the Swiss government not to act hastily and to consider that the promise of reform by the Mirziyoev regime have not yet materialized in practice. Based on all available information we strongly believe that return of these assets without sound conditionalities developed in consultation with major stakeholders, including civil society - which has been in a stranglehold in Uzbekistan for more than two decades - would only further perpetuate corrupt practices in Uzbekistan, leaving the systemic causes of the original criminal conduct untouched. The Swiss government can and should use these assets as an incentive to promote and support the course of reforms in Uzbekistan in the long-term interests of the Uzbek people.

The government of Uzbekistan’s claim over these assets is based on a decision of Tashkent Regional Criminal Court. As far as we know, Swiss law bars the recognition of a foreign court judgment if the procedural principles set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were not observed. Given the absence of anything approaching a due process in Uzbek courts, as numerous reports by human rights organizations, international bodies, and other governments have documented, we question how the Swiss government could consider returning assets in reliance on this basis. The only way we see it could comply with its legal obligations would through a return with sound conditionalities.

Hastily returning the assets also raises the risk of repeating the irregularities observed around the Swiss government’s recent, essentially unconditional return of $48 million in money laundering proceeds to the Kazakh government. The assets were returned through funding two projects administered by the World Bank Trust Fund. We have reports that that those projects are affected by conflict of interests and opaque disposal of funds to organizations controlled by top officials, including Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The controversial restitution of $48M to Kazakhstan and the looming return of Gulnara Karimova’s ill-gotten assets directly to the Uzbek government contravenes the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ (SFDFA) commitments to pursue transparent and accountable repatriation of the proceeds of corruption, stolen assets frozen and confiscated on Swiss territory.

In our view, asset return should be considered as an integral part of the global fight against corruption. The repatriation policy that appears to have been functionally adopted by the Swiss government is contradictory to this view. Violation of commitments against corruption and regarding responsible asset return may undermine Switzerland’s reputation as a leading state in asset return.

Not just the Kazakh case, but also earlier lessons learned by the Swiss government in the Montesinos case, the Abacha case and the Angola case - where setbacks occurred as well - underline the importance of responsible repatriation and the responsibilities of the requested state in this process. As the Swiss government acknowledges in its recent publication No Dirty Money, “with the right mechanisms it is possible to seek transparency and justice in restitution of plundered assets. Cooperation with the country of origin, political will, and close monitoring offer the best guarantees that the funds will be used to benefit the people and not be misappropriated once again.” We urge the Swiss government not to lose sight of this fine statement of policy when considering the return of assets to Uzbekistan.

In one of its statements the Swiss government outlined its reasoning for not setting up a Bota Foundation type solution: "Restitution through a foundation proved to be administratively cumbersome". We are very disappointed that for the SFDFA considerations of justice and restitution of the victims of corruption were outweighed by a desire to be rid of the assets as soon as possible with as little of administrative burden as possible.

We call upon the Swiss government:

to take a firm and responsible approach to asset restitution by setting certain conditions that would guarantee that the funds returned were not again stolen but go instead to further the well-being of the Uzbek people. Any arrangement for the return of Uzbek assets should work to encourage the government of Uzbekistan to maintain its commitments for reforms and take serious, measurable steps towards establishing effective anti-corruption mechanisms and the rule of law. These reforms should proceed rather than follow any asset return, as all too often reforms are promised, but never delivered.

to launch an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the implementation of projects funded out of the $48M restituted to Kazakhstan in 2015.

to postpone the decision on repatriation of Uzbek assets until this investigation is complete. The result of this investigation may have implications for Swiss policy on the modality of restitution. Swiss authorities should recognize that Uzbekistan still lags far behind even Kazakhstan in transparency and accountability standards, and in the ability of watchdog organizations to operate, so the risk of even more irregularities in the use of returned assets in Uzbekistan is greater should the Swiss federal government decide to return assets without appropriate safeguards attached.

to make its commitment to fighting grand corruption the first priority in its policy on asset return to Uzbekistan and to contribute more attention, time, and resources to ensure the proceeds of corruption are returned responsibly, in the long-term development interests of the Uzbek people.


Uzbek assets:

In 2012, the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Switzerland launched a criminal investigation into the origins of assets on the bank accounts of Takilant, LTD, Swisdorn, LTD and other shell companies the beneficial owner of which was Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the former Uzbek president Islam Karimov. The Prosecutor’s Office froze assets valued at 800 million Swiss francs held in accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere and filed criminal charges against several close associates of Gulnara Karimova on the suspicion of money laundering. The aforementioned amount of 800 million CHF was a bribe paid to Gulnara Karimova by telecom companies in exchange for promoting their businesses in Uzbekistan. The investigation by the Swiss prosecutor’s office led to the collapse of Karimova’s once-expansive financial empire, criminal convictions for her closest associates, ostracism, and a criminal investigation for Karimova herself leading to her imprisonment in 2017. Karimova’s trial proceeded in violation of all international standards, with no right provided for Karimova to choose her defense, with no public transparency, and was in fact staged in the kitchen of her own house. It is our understanding that SFDFA is planning to return the assets to the government of Uzbekistan very soon, despite all concerns raised earlier by civil society groups regarding such a scenario.

Kazakh assets:

The recent return of $48 million to the government of Kazakhstan is a second tranche related to the scandal known as “Kazakhgate“. The first tranche of $115 million was repatriated in 2008 through the charitable Bota Foundation that was administered by a board accountable to its three founding countries, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and the United States, as well as the World Bank. The experience of Bota Foundation was widely praised as a model for responsible return of stolen assets that met standards of transparency and accountability and provided mechanisms for secure checks and balances in disposal of funds in interests of Kazakh people.

The recently returned second tranche of $48 million stands in total opposition to the Bota Foundation model in terms of transparency and accountability. It evolves from a 2011 corruption prosecution in Geneva, relating to a currently unknown Kazakh figure. Parties to the case agreed that the money would be returned to Kazakh government. Switzerland decided to use the World Bank Trust Fund as a means to return these assets to Kazakhstan and monitor its use. The Agreement was signed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the World Bank on 20 December 2012. Out of this amount, $21.76 million has been apportioned to the so-called Youth Corp Program, with the agreement for this project signed in 2015 between the World Bank and the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science as the implementing agency. The second part, in the amount of $23.06 million, was allocated in the same year for an energy efficiency project to be implemented by the Ministry of Investments and Development.

According to our information at least one of these two projects, the Youth Corp Program, is accompanied by a number of irregularities which may be described as money laundering.

To begin with, the World Bank did not disclose to the Kazakh public that the money for both projects originates from the assets frozen and confiscated by Swiss authorities in the money laundering case committed by a Kazakh citizen, most likely by a top official and his associates. Instead, the bank presented this grant as having been allocated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SADC). Thus, the Kazakh society was misled on the origin of the funds. It was not money allocated out of the Swiss public finance, but, in fact, was the repatriation of assets stolen from the Kazakh people and retuned through the very same public office that might itself have been instrumental in the original criminal conduct.

Secondly, there have been a number of transactions possibly made with conflicts of interest. Here are only few examples:

Aliya Bizhanova, who has acted on behalf of the World Bank as Operations Officer responsible for the Youth Corp Project, is reportedly herself a co-founder of the Kazakh Society of Researchers in the Field of Education. This non-profit had received a grant from the World Bank’s Youth Corp project (grant No 140840014775). It turns out that Bizhanova acted in this case in two capacities, representing two parties, the one allocating funds and another receiving these funds. Furthermore, the head of this non-profit is Aida Sagintayeva who is, in turn, a niece of Bakhytjan Sagintayev, the current Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. Aliya Bizhanova is reportedly also a co-founder or ultimate owner of other NGOs that received grants out of the Youth Corp project.

The Coordinating Agency, which is responsible for distributing 92% of the funds of the Youth Corps project, is a quasi-government consortium made up of three organizations. It is led by the Congress of Kazakhstan Youth whose chair is the eldest daughter of the President, Dariga Nazarbayeva. There is a likelihood that Dariga Nazarbayeva may have influence over the Coordinating Agency due to her position in the Congress of Kazakhstan Youth and could therefore have influence over the distribution of funds. As a result, the project might have been politically instrumentalized – resulting in propagandistic rhetoric in youth policy documents published by government centres on how to mold a new generation of patriotic Kazakhs prepared to do their utmost for the motherland. Thus, the SADC may have found itself an unwitting co-funder of a scope of a ‘Komsomol-style’ organization.

There is also information that some organizations that received grants out of the Youth Corp project are not legitimate entities and do not exist at addresses where they have been registered.

There are similar problems with how the World Bank is administering funds allocated by the Swiss government to Kazakhstan, but it would be better if the Swiss authorities had themselves acquired better understanding of how the funds they have allocated to the Kazakh government are being used in reality.

How Shavkat Mirziyoev Became Uzbekistan's Supreme Leader

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (9)

The dismissal of the head of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, on January 31 was the latest and arguably most important step so far in President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s consolidation of power.

It was clear when Mirziyoev came to power in September 2016 after the death of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, that Mirziyoev would have to fend off some challenges before he could cement his claim to leadership.

Mirziyoev now appears firmly entrenched in power and it is possible to trace how he accomplished this.

Like so many Uzbek officials, Mirziyoev worked in Karimov’s shadow. For many citizens, for 25 years, “Uzbekistan” and “President Karimov” were synonymous, and while people might have known the names of a few government officials, they did not know much else about them.

When Karimov died, there were three people who seemingly emerged with a chance to succeed the longtime leader: Mirziyoev, Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, and Inoyatov, though the SNB chief was seen more as a kingmaker than a king.

Mirziyoev got the nod and was -- unconstitutionally, by some accounts -- named acting president. Then, on December 4, 2016, he won a snap presidential election. But he was in the unenviable position of having powerful rivals next to him. This precarious situation was underscored by the fact that the shadowy spy master Inoyatov, who had rarely even been photographed, started appearing more often in public.

Mirziyoev moved quickly, first bringing back Abdulla Aripov and appointing him deputy prime minister. Aripov was ousted from his post as deputy prime minister in charge of telecommunications and information systems in August 2012 as a scandal unfolded around Karimov’s eldest daughter, Gulnara, and her illegal business activities with foreign telecommunications companies.

Mirziyoev was prime minister at that time, so there is widespread speculation that he might have had knowledge of some of those illegal activities. But Aripov, who was sent to teach at a college in Tashkent, did not implicate Mirziyoev.

Parliament confirmed Mirziyoev as acting president on September 8, 2016. By September 14, Mirziyoyev appointed Aripov to be deputy prime minister in charge of, among other matters, telecommunications and information systems -- Aripov’s old job. Aripov was subsequently confirmed as prime minister on December 14, 2016.

The nominations of Mirziyoev for president and Aripov for prime minister came from the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (LDPU), one of four pro-presidential parties (the only parties officially registered) but, crucially, the party that traditionally nominated Karimov for president. The LDPU had seemingly transferred its loyalty to Mirziyoev.

Mirziyoev began changing personnel during the three months he was acting president, mostly district heads and district police chiefs in Uzbekistan’s big cities; but, for example, during his trip to his native Jizzakh Province in mid-September 2016, he sacked the provincial head and the mayor of Jizzakh city. After he was elected, changes started coming more frequently and at more senior levels.

In the first two months of 2017, Mirziyoev replaced provincial police chiefs in Navoi, Jizzakh, Andijon, and Tashkent provinces, chief prosecutors in several provinces, and the mayors of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then Mirziyoev started changing provincial governors, sometimes twice.

In January 2017, he appointed Abdusalom Azizov, the head of the Interior Ministry branch in Jizzakh Province, to be Uzbekistan’s interior minister, then made him defense minister in September. The governor of Khorezm Province, Pulat Bobojonov, took over as interior minister. (Bobojonov had worked as a prosecutor in Jizzakh Province.)

Mirziyoev also might have had the support of another influential group in Uzbekistan.

In September 2016, shortly after Mirziyoev became acting president, Interpol removed reputed drug kingpin Gafur Rahimov, an Uzbek national, from its wanted list. Rahimov and his alleged business dealings recently resurfaced when he was appointed president of the International Boxing Association.

Uzbek businessman Salimjon Abduvaliyev, who has long been the object of speculation concerning possible ties to organized crime in Uzbekistan, appeared in a photograph before the December 2016 presidential election wearing a T-shirt with Mirziyoev’s picture on it and the words (in Russian) “My President.”

Other officials who had been detained or jailed on corruption charges under Karimov were released. Tohir Jalilov, the former head of GM Uzbekistan who was blamed for thousands of vehicles bound for sale in Russia being sold instead in Uzbekistan, was freed from detention. Kahramon Aripov (no relation to the prime minister), who was head of the Asaka Bank and connected to the GM Uzbekistan scandal, was released from prison.

Former Tashkent Mayor Kozim Tulaganov, convicted of economic crimes in 2006 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, suddenly appeared and was made head of the state construction and architecture committee by Mirziyoev two days after the latter became president.

As noted earlier, Mirziyoev was no heir apparent. Either Azimov or Inoyatov could have assumed power, and it might have made little immediate difference to the people of Uzbekistan. All three were officials in Karimov’s government.

Mirziyoev has worked to create an image as a “people’s” president.

He has made well-publicized visits to places that had significance for the people of Uzbekistan: the grave of Bahauddin Naqshband, the 14th-century founder of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, in Bukhara; the grave of 20th-century Uzbek poet Erkin Vohidov in Margilan; and other famous figures from the region’s history.

He personally appeared on television to give the New Year Address on December 31, 2016, a departure from Karimov’s practice of having his messages read out by newscasters. He spoke about creating new programs for low-income families, the handicapped, orphans. Mirziyoev openly mentioned the forced conscription of citizens into the cotton fields at harvest time and vowed to rid the country of the practice. He launched a website -- a virtual reception area -- where citizens were encouraged to inform the president about problems they faced or about local officials who were seen to be taking advantage of citizens.

He reached out to “people who have gone astray who want to return to normal life,” presumably those convicted of involvement with banned Islamic groups, and said, “We should make those people our friends and beckon them to spirituality." In June, he ordered a review of Muslims placed on a secretive black list, and by the start of September one report claimed 16,000 out of 17,000 names had been removed.

But most of all, Mirziyoev criticized officials of the system he inherited from Karimov. And he did so in front of state TV cameras.

He criticized the police, the tax agency, the health-care system, and other state bodies and entities.

In August, he called employees of the prosecutor-general’s office the “biggest thieves” in the country. “I...do not like prosecutors,” he said. “I know how these people with no conscience behave themselves."

For the people of Uzbekistan, who had endured 25 years of predations under the Karimov regime in silence, it almost certainly was amazing -- and pleasing -- to hear the new president saying out loud what many of them had felt all those years.

Mirziyoev used this pent-up frustration to his advantage. At a cabinet session on January 14, 2017, Mirziyoev lashed out at the Finance Ministry, saying it had not fulfilled it most important tasks and had wasted money and time. Rustam Azimov was no longer finance minister by that time -- he had been removed from that position right after Mirziyoev was elected president -- but the failures of which Mirziyoev spoke virtually all occurred on Azimov’s watch.

Mirziyoev specifically mentioned problems that people had using bank cards to access money at bank machines. A few days later, a video was posted of pensioners in the southeastern city of Denau protesting their inability to withdraw their pension money from bank machines.

It is difficult to hold a public protest in Uzbekistan, and there don't appear to have been any subsequent reports that anyone involved in this unsanctioned demonstration was detained or punished, which could suggest that someone in the government was behind the Denau incident.

It coincided with the start of Azimov’s apparent fall from power. Azimov was blamed for failings several more times before he finally resigned from his post as deputy prime minister in June 2017.

Azimov was made general-director of Uzbekinvest, the state insurance company for imports and exports. But some believe Azimov’s real job, and possibly last job for the Uzbek government, is to bring back money the Karimov family moved outside Uzbekistan.

But Azimov had been eliminated as a rival.

In January 2017, Mirziyoev made an important change to the National Security Service: He demoted deputy chief Shukhrat Gulyamov and sent him to head the National Security Service branch in Syrdarya Province. Gulyamov had been Inoyatov’s right-hand man. Gulyamov refused to leave his position in Tashkent and in February he was stripped of his general’s rank and detained. In August 2017, a military court found him guilty of illegally selling weapons, money-laundering, and connections to organized crime. Gulyamov was sentenced to life imprisonment (and ordered to pay $1.5 billion for damages he caused).

There were other changes in National Security Service personnel as Mirziyoev seemingly moved Inoyatov’s people out and his own people in.

In late November, Mirziyoev started criticizing the National Security Service's work.

On November 30, he said it was inadmissible to use evidence obtained through illegal means -- torture, for instance. In December, Mirziyoev spoke of the need for new rules and regulations for the activities of the National Security Service, saying for 26 years it had not changed and was able to declare “any problem [it wished] to be a threat to national security.

Also in December, an organization called Open Source Investigations released a report detailing property allegedly owned by Inoyatov’s family in Austria.

Uzbekistan’s spymaster had gone more than two decades without such reports, so the timing of this revelation was curious.

The announcement of Inoyatov’s departure as National Security Service chief can feasibly be regarded as a key stage of Mirziyoev’s consolidation of power.

Mirziyoev appears to have neutralized potential rivals, filled top state posts with friends and loyalists, reached some sort of arrangement with powerful “business” figures in Uzbekistan, built up a support base among the population, and, importantly, met with top world leaders who have heartily and publicly endorsed him as Uzbekistan’s new president.