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Uzbekistan after Karimov: goodbye to the family business

As Uzbekistan's elite recovers from the shock of Islam Karimov's death, the scrabble for the spoils is only just beginning. 

Uzbekistan's authoritarian president Islam Karimov, pictured here with his wife Tatyana, died on 2 September, putting the region's future politics in doubt. (c) Manish Swarup / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.We repost this article with permission from the independent Fergana News news agency.

The family of late president Islam Karimov have not just lost a husband and father, but the riches and privileges to which they are accustomed.

Across post-Soviet Central Asia, the children of the countries’ rulers control various sectors of the economy or even, in contravention of the law, run businesses, protected by the “immunity” of their parents. And Uzbekistan is no exception.

Gulnara and Lola Karimova, the daughters of the late president, and their husbands have had various degrees of success in business and consequent fluctuating income levels over the years: both these indicators depended entirely on the acquiescence or patronage of their parents.

So now that Islam Karimov has breathed his last, and his wife Tatyana Karimova is gradually losing her grip on the reins of power, the commercial activities of their children and relatives are under threat.

The fallen “princess”

Gulnara Karimova, the late president’s elder daughter, is undoubtedly the most famous offspring of any leader in the former Soviet Union. Her business career started with nightclubs and a modelling agency, but came to a sudden halt when she was accused of corruption and money laundering in several European countries and the US in 2014.

Gulnara’s millions are now frozen, and an investigation into the massive bribes she allegedly took for allowing Scandinavian and Russian telecom companies to operate in Uzbekistan continues.

Gulnara Karimova was previously a noted socialite and businesswoman. (c) RIA Novosti/Vitaly Levitin. All rights reserved.Soon after this debacle, Gulnara’s business empire back home — she was the owner of TV and radio companies, fashion and gossip magazines, shops and restaurants — also fell apart. Her own parents ordered her to close down all her sources of income: they didn’t have any choice. Her younger sister Lola was, meanwhile, rubbing her hands with glee: the sisters had been in competition (if not outright conflict) for over a decade, and now one of them had lost everything.

Gulnara is now under house arrest, isolated from the rest of the world. Her mother personally monitors her compliance with the rules once a week. The only other person she is allowed to be in contact with is her brother Islam, who is based in London and Riga. The “Uzbek princess”, whose rise and fall were equally spectacular, is unlikely to ever regain her former splendour and brilliance.

Mother’s ruin

Before Karimov’s death, his wife Tatyana was one of the most influential people in Uzbekistan. According to our sources, she personally controlled all appointments to government posts. Allegedly, she worked through an intermediary, businessman Salim Abduvaliyev, who fixed the price for any given position and split the “proceeds” 50-50 with the president’s wife.

According to unconfirmed rumours, Tatyana Karimova also “looked after” Uzbekistan’s Customs and Excise Service and the import of goods from abroad. Here, she worked in tandem with her daughter Lola and husband Timur Tillyayev, who was also close to Salim Abduvaliyev. Tillyayev was until recently the owner of the extremely profitable Abu-Sakhii Company, which owns a massive clothing and household goods market in Tashkent and is widely referred to as a “private business empire”.

On 8 September, the Tashkent based independent online newspaper UzMetronom reported that a financial and management inspection was taking place at Abu-Sakhii’s wholesale market. It was triggered by complaints from the public, allegations of unpaid taxes and recent reports coming in of the use of foreign currency at the market.

The new first family

Our sources in Tashkent have confirmed that the “inspection” is in fact the first stage of a transfer of Abu-Sakhii’s assets to relatives of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s current prime minister and the most likely winner of the presidential election that will take place in December. “Timur Tillyayev’s entire business will go to Mirziyoyev’s sons-in-law Oybek and Otobek,” our sources told us.

“These guys, both from well known and influential families, are married to Mirziyoyev’s daughters. Mirziyoyev is a member of a very powerful clan that will quickly take over all the profitable businesses from the Karimovs.”

29 August: Municipal workers clean Tashkent's Independence Square ahead of Independence Day in Uzbekistan. (c) AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Timur Tillyayev himself is, at present, abroad with his children, and didn’t even fly back to Tashkent for his father-in-law’s funeral. There is now significant doubt whether he will return to Uzbekistan at all.

As for Salim Abduvaliyev, our sources report that his influence has waned distinctly over the past weeks. And when Tatyana Karimova leaves the unofficial political scene he will lose his clout forever.

On the other hand, it is 100% certain that another well known businessman and behind-the-scenes operator, Gafur Rakhimov will return home. Rakhimov’s business and other activities suffered considerably at the hands of Gulnara Karimova during her rise to power, and Rakhimov was forced to leave Uzbekistan. But he has repeatedly told members of his circle that he would have his revenge and force both the late president’s daughters to “run naked through the streets of Tashkent”.

It’s clear that the process set in motion by Karimov’s death last month and the removal of his family from the scene is just beginning. Uzbekistan is in for big changes in many spheres. “All our business owners and bureaucrats are terrified,” the wife of a big Tashkent businessman told us.

“What will happen to them? There’s been a change of government and everyone’s scared — what will the new balance of power be? Who will be thrown out; who will lose what?” Her words neatly sum up the atmosphere in Uzbekistan today.


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