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Corruption and reform in Uzbekistan: The elephant is still in the room

Article by Professor Kristian Lasslett

July 14, 2020

Corruption and reform in Uzbekistan: The elephant is still in the room

When Uzbekistan’s first post-Soviet President, Islam Karimov, passed away in September 2016, he left behind a complex legacy. Uzbekistan had not suffered prolonged instability, armed conflict, or state-failure, like in certain other post-Soviet spaces. On the other hand, life had become increasingly choreographed by an authoritarian state, buttressed by an expansive surveillance apparatus, and arbitrary forms of violence.[1] Behind the state lay opaque cliques of security chiefs, politicians, mandarins, businessmen, and select organised crime figures, who built personal alliances, and leveraged unchecked state power, to administer rackets and protect economic territory. In the academic literature neo-patrimonialism and clientelism have been employed to describe these dynamics.[2] Victims interviewed by the author have used the more visceral phrase, mafia-state (this denotes the state operates like a mafia organisation, not that the state has been captured by an outside crime group). Each term, in their own way, depict how power to make political and economic decisions in Uzbekistan, with profound implications for the distribution of wealth and the enjoyment of human rights, has been captured by closed, elite networks and frequently used for improper ends.


Islam Karimov’s Presidential successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has attempted to shed some of these legacies by framing himself as an ambitious moderniser with an appetite for greater levels of transparency and accountability.[3] This has presaged a raft of pro-business reforms, and some market liberalisation measures. These reforms have met cautious enthusiasm at home and at times rapturous applause from abroad. In a context marked by hope and goodwill, pointing to the enduring challenge of corruption and kleptocracy triggers the risk of being labelled a ‘spoiler’. Yet it is an issue that is difficult to avoid. Deeply entrenched political-economic structures, and the institutional and social cultures they are syncopated with, are difficult to shift, especially in a top-down manner where those in power have excelled because of their ability to navigate this particular environment.


It is important, therefore, that the enduring spectre of grand corruption is considered and calculated into any analysis of the reform process in Uzbekistan.[4] Even as this essay is being edited, reports are emerging in Uzbekistan that may tie the Sardoba dam collapse, and emergency COVID-19 spending, to corruption.[5] Accordingly, understanding and challenging the practices, processes, relationships and structures that systemically reproduce grand corruption remains an important task.


The documentation and clinical analysis of such practices trigger challenges. Processes captured under the rubric of corruption, are frequently understood in quantitative terms using different measurement tools. It is exceedingly difficult, given the secretive nature of such transactions and the often unchecked power enjoyed by practitioners, to qualitatively document them, at least at a grand level. Without qualitative documentation based on representative and robust samples, it is difficult in turn to produce sophisticated and reliable forms of analysis that can guide policy and practice.


Against this challenging backdrop the following essay takes an inductive approach, working off investigative data-sets pertaining to a number of cases in order to formulate a series of evidence based hypotheses on the structures and drivers that stimulate grand corruption in Uzbekistan.


The first part of this essay deals with a classic case study on corruption in Uzbekistan, looking at the underpinning structures its content points to. Then the analysis turns to two contemporary case studies relating to the Mirziyoyev era, where serious governance concerns have been raised, in order to consider whether they exhibit similar traits to this classic case. The conclusions that follow from this will then be employed to deduce how the underpinning system these cases are outward evidence of, may mediate reform process outcomes.


Gulnara Karimova: A Baseline for Grand Corruption Studies in Uzbekistan

The eldest daughter of Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, is currently serving a custodial sentence in Uzbekistan for a series of criminal convictions relating to corrupt activity that a range of authorities assert took place between 2000 and 2012.[6] This activity has also been the subject of international asset forfeiture, civil litigation, and foreign jurisdiction prosecutions.[7] Researchers, as a result, have access to granular detail on the underpinning activity. This classic case, therefore, serves as an instructive baseline window into a wider system.


The first point to note is that the evidence, and judicial findings, indicate Karimova headed a powerful organised crime syndicate that was embedded within the Uzbek state.[8] This network featured an inner core of fixers, managers, envoys and proxies, who were intimately involved in the group’s day to day business affairs. In addition, the syndicate also enjoyed ties to a non-core set of high profile fixers and envoys, who prosecuted the group’s affairs on a needs basis


Syndicate activities, the evidence indicates, were conducted with the assistance and complicity of senior state officials, and enacted through a diverse range of state organs. These organs included cabinet, government committees, ministries, the courts, sector regulators, and the security services. These different state levers enabled the syndicate to expropriate businesses, monopolise markets, solicit bribes, and administer extortion rackets. Through these activities the syndicate was able to develop a diverse portfolio of business interests across a range of sectors including services, construction, manufacturing, industrial, retail, natural resources, and finance. Once markets and businesses had been seized, they continued to be operated on a privileged basis, drawing on special state treatment, reportedly generating significant profits for the syndicate.


A range of international actors and jurisdictions have in practice proved essential buttresses for this activity. It appears European and North American businesses have been consenting parties to protection rackets. Foreign telecommunications providers in particular, were aware of the Karimova syndicate’s racketeering activities, and the ultimate beneficiary. While overseas banks in the United Kingdom (UK), Switzerland and Latvia have been employed as key conduits for syndicate money laundering operations. It is less clear from the public record how culpable these financial institutions are. However, the group’s primary bankers in these regions have a documented criminal history. A range of corporate services were offered by the British Overseas Territories. This enabled syndicate activities to be conducted with secrecy and security.


Karimova used these arrangement to grow her own personal wealth. She was able to obtain productive assets that could generate profit, and then operate them under privileged conditions that augmented financial returns. This income was supplemented by rents derived from non-productive assets such as real-estate, and bribes/protection payments solicited from companies seeking market access. Businesses were also in a position where they had to accommodate syndicate commercial proposals, regardless of merits. Failure to do so risked state persecution and loss of assets. The wealth generated was transformed into political capital, through funding a wide range of charitable initiatives that positioned Karimova as a potential successor to her father. However, this was a highly competitive process at an elite level. Subsequently Karimova herself experienced expropriation and imprisonment after influential rivals organised against her. This is one potential exit point for ‘game’ losers.


Subsequent investigative research by the author indicates that the schemes and practices summarised above, were at the more extreme end of the spectrum in terms of volume and the tactics employed. However, the opaque use of state power to obtain unfair commercial advantage, the use of complex offshore structures that conceal beneficial ownership and conflicts of interest, the provision of state aid to politically exposed entities without transparent rationale, the use of illegal methods to make augmented profits, expropriation and intra-elite cannibalisation of corporate assets, and the cultivation of significant private business portfolios by senior state officials and their family, remain systemic features of Uzbekistan’s political-economy. Karimova’s case represents an instance where these dynamics were taken to their most extreme. But evidence indicates that in the Mirziyoyev era, these dynamics remain an enduring mediation that will shape reform outcomes. One recent example that exhibits some of these ongoing challenges is the controversial mega-project, Tashkent City.


The Tashkent City Mega-Project

Tashkent City is a major US$1.3 billion property development in the heart of Tashkent.[9] It was ushered in by the Mirziyoyev government as a powerful urban signal of its modernising agenda.[10] Once complete Tashkent City will consist of residential complexes, retail, business and financial districts, Hilton and Radisson branded hotels, a Congress Centre, and a large recreational park boasting a 7D cinema, planetarium and wax museum. The property development is divided into eight lots. Each lot has a designated investor or investors, a designer, and general contractor responsible for construction efforts.


A government directorate was set up to coordinate the project, in collaboration with private investors, designers, and construction companies. Article eight of the Cabinet of Ministers decree governing Tashkent City states that investors would be selected through a tender process, which would be set out in future regulations.[11] Under the decree Tashkent City investors stood to benefit from significant state aid including tax and customs exemptions.


No transparent tender process took place. The Mayor’s Office and Tashkent City Directorate confirm that investors were selected by an Administrative Council set up under the originating decree.[12] Members of the Administrative Council include the Prime Minister, First Deputy Prime Minister, the Ministers for Finance, Economics, Justice, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Internal Affairs, Chairmen and Directors of various state committees and public enterprises, the Mayor of Tashkent and the head of the public directorate responsible for Tashkent City. A request was made for investor bid and selection documents. The Tashkent Mayoral Office responded: ‘Administrative Council documents relating to the approval of investors are internal documents for official use, and therefore, we are not able to give them to you’.[13] When questions were asked about the level of due diligence conducted during the selection and award process, the Mayor of Tashkent, Jahongir Artikhodjayev, informed the media, ‘if we ask the beneficiary for each investor, we can close the gates of Uzbekistan, nobody will come here’.[14]


This remark followed an exposé published by Open Democracy in the UK.[15] Their investigation claimed that shares in Tashkent City’s biggest foreign investor, Hyper Partners GmbH – which is providing US$400 million – were owned by a teenager, Mustafa Palvan. The investors in lots one, five, and seven, and the general contractor selected for lots one, five, seven and eight, also triggered serious governance concerns.


Table 1: 2019 shareholding profile of investors and contractor for lots one, five, seven and eight, Tashkent City[16]

High Land CityInvestorOneIsmail Israilov (81.24%), Techno Continental (8.19%), Next Generation Product (8.17%), and Azizxuja Azlarov (2.40%)
Akfa Dream WorldInvestorFivePerfect Plast Profil (21.4%) (April 2020 update[17]: Wide Tent System 31.45%, Techno Continental 21.36%, Perfect Plast Profil 19.23%, Asia Electron 12.92%, Atlant Metal 6.44%, Baxodir Abdullayev 8.6%)
Premium VillageInvestorSevenIsmail Israilov (23.28%), Quality Electronics (37.2%), Asia Electron (28.51%), Factory of Technologies (9.3%), Athamjon Israilov (1.17%)
Discover InvestContractorOne, Five, Seven and EightAbror Ganiyev (86.18%), Sobirjon Xakimov (13.82%)


Table 1 indicates that Ismail Israilov and Abror Ganiyev were both key shareholders. At the time, both individuals were managers in the Akfa-Artel group of companies. The corporate shareholders identified in Table 1, were tied to the same conglomerate. Akfa-Artel thus emerged as a key player in Tashkent City. This prompted particular concern as a result of the fact both Akfa and Artel were founded by the Mayor of Tashkent (2018-current), Jahongir Artikhodjayev, who served in 2017-18 as head of the public directorate responsible for implementing Tashkent City.[18]


Further corporate data collated between January and May of 2019, confirmed that Ganiyev jointly owned at least four companies with Jahongir Artikhodjayev, he co-owned a further three companies in the Akfa-Artel group (at least three), has been identified as an executive in two Akfa-Artel linked entities, and was appointed Chairman of the Board at Akfa.[19] Additionally, the registered address for Discover Invest, contractor for lots one, five, seven and eight, was found to be the same as J-United Group, a key holding company 100 per cent owned during 2019 by the Mayor of Tashkent.


Israilov exhibited a similar profile to Ganiyev. He was, for instance, listed as a Manager at Akfa Engineering and Management, a firm at the time 100 per cent owned by Jahongir Artikhodjayev. In addition to this, the data-set revealed that Israilov co-owned at least four companies with Artikhodjayev, he was sole shareholder in six companies linked to the Akfa- Artel group, and co-owned at least four companies with Abror Ganiyev.


Ganiyev and Israilov were both asked if they held the shares on behalf of a third party. Neither individual responded. The Mayor of Tashkent’s office denied he had an interest in Tashkent City.[20] Because of the Akfa-Artel group’s use of opaque offshore holding companies (see Table 2), and Ganiyev/Israilov’s silence on the matter, it was impossible to verify whether or not the Mayor of Tashkent had a beneficial interest in Tashkent City. It could be verified though that the Mayor retained significant beneficial interests in the Akfa-Artel group.


Because Administrative Council tender records were withheld, Artikhodjayev’s potential role in the selection process for Tashkent City investors could not be scrutinised either.


Table 2: Offshore ownership structure of investor for lots one, five, and seven, Tashkent City[21]

CompanyShareholdersPerson with Significant Control (UK only)
Techno ContinentalWynex Innovation LLP (100%)None declared
Next Generation ProductMacMerry Management LP (50%), Singapore Syndicate Group Pte Ltd (50%)Dalston Management LP (Dalston Management declares no PSC)


Perfect Plast ProfilEsperansa Group LP (100%)Esperansa Incorporated LP[22]
Wide Tent SystemEsperansa Group LP (100%)Esperansa Incorporated LP
Asia ElectronMacMerry Management LLP (50%), Commerce Standard Pte Ltd (50%)Dalston Management LP (Dalston Management declares no PSC)


Quality ElectronicsMacMerry Management LP (50%), Commerce Standard Pte Ltd (50%)Dalston Management LP (Dalston Management declares no PSC)


Factory of TechnologiesMacMerry Management LP (50%), Singapore Syndicate Group Pte Ltd (50%)Dalston Management LP (Dalston Management declares no PSC)



After the above details were published in the international and national media, a leaked audio-recording emerged. The voice recording is reported to be the Tashkent Mayor.[23] The recorded voice makes serious threats against the media. The threats include disappearing journalists, or subjecting them to false allegations of a homophobic nature.


Given the levels of state secrecy experienced, it is difficult to substantively compare and contrast this case with the example of Gulnara Karimova. However, there are certain prima facie parallels. First, we observe in the case of Tashkent City a major state organised economic opportunity being awarded through closed channels, instead of a transparent open tender. Second, numerous corporate beneficiaries of the subsequent awards made through a closed process, exhibit a range of red flags. These red flags include the use of opaque offshore holding companies, further camouflaged in one instance by a persons with significant control declaration that violates UK transparency laws (see footnote 22). Third, some of the key corporate beneficiaries of this mega-project are tied to the Akfa-Artel conglomerate, a group founded by the current Mayor of Tashkent, who previous served as head of the Tashkent City directorate. No conflict of interest has been acknowledged by the Mayor’s office. Finally, following a period of heightened scrutiny it appears the Mayor used serious threats to intimidate journalists. This echoes the coercive tactics experienced by residents displaced by the Tashkent City project.[24]


These features of Tashkent City, as a totality, reflect many of the risk factors exhibited by the Karimova case between 2000 and 2012, which were subsequently found to be the outward symptoms of corrupt activity following extensive investigation by justice agencies in multiple jurisdictions. While Tashkent City may exhibit a number of the same red flags documented in the Karimova case, it cannot be factually established the same types of corruption underpin Tashkent City. Given the Uzbekistani state’s opposition to basic forms of transparency in this case, it is unlikely there will be any state-led attempt to verify whether or not the red flags pointed to above are symptomatic of impropriety. However, based off the information collated to date, and the state secrecy surrounding Tashkent City, serious concerns remain over the probity of this mega-project.


These concerning structural features exhibited by Tashkent City were observed in a sector wide study of cotton conducted during 2019. Although, in this study more granular detail was uncovered on certain key corporate players.


Evaluating Cotton Sector Integrity

Agriculture, cotton cultivation, and associated forms of manufacturing, including textiles, constitutes a key pillar of Uzbekistan’s economy. Textile companies in particular are among some of the largest and most influential concerns in Uzbekistan. The cultivation of raw cotton, however, has been seriously tarnished by a quota-system reliant on state-organised forced labour regimes. To address this serious human rights issue, stimulate new investment, and enhance value-added activity, the Government of Uzbekistan implemented a privatisation programme in the cotton sector through a ‘cluster’ system.[25]


Cotton clusters are vertically integrated production units, organised on a district basis. Cluster operators, primarily textile companies, are responsible for overseeing the production of cotton and its conversion into value added products. Transparent, competitive tender processes were not employed to select cluster operators. Instead, the governing decrees state that cluster operators have been picked on the basis of a proposal made by each company in conjunction with the relevant regional government.[26] The Ministry for Agriculture, and the President’s Office, failed to respond to a written freedom of information request for these proposals sent in the required format. Under the law, On the Openness of the Activities of Public Authorities and Administration, authorities must respond within 15 days of registering a request.[27]


In light of the sector’s fragile human rights record, a corporate integrity analysis was conducted of 71 cluster operators looking at a series of benchmarks linked to financial transparency, corporate governance, and professional track record.[28] Following an initial iteration of the research in early 2019, a scorecard system was developed and applied to twenty representative clusters. Green flags were awarded for evidence of good practice, red flags were awarded where bad practice was documented, while amber flags were reserved for situations where key benchmarks could not be verified due to a lack of corporate information on the public record (direct requests were also made to companies for information). A systematic application of the scorecard revealed a high proportion of red (41 per cent) and amber flags (49 per cent). This indicated that companies operating the cluster system were opaque, and where records could be located, they exhibited concerning features.


One example of this is the Uztex group. Uztex brands itself as the largest textile company in Uzbekistan. It is a conglomerate made up of primarily limited liability companies, which are responsible for different aspects of group operations. Uztex was founded by Fakhritdin Mamatdjanov and his son Farkhod.[29] The Mamatdjanov family are also the principal owners of Invest Finance Bank, which encountered negative publicity after it was found managing significant accounts connected to Gulnara Karimova (although to the author’s knowledge Uzbek authorities have not charged the bank for any offences relating to Karimova or her companies).[30]


Shares in Uztex are held primarily through a complex offshore structure, using incorporated entities in Switzerland, Singapore and the UK. The General Director of a Russian subsidiary alleged to Uzbek authorities that the group’s key Swiss offshore vehicle has been used by Farkhod Mamatdjanov to covertly facilitate criminal activities.[31] Subsequently, Russian authorities seized corporate property as part of a criminal investigation into Mamatdjanov.[32]


Leaked Uztex internal records raise further concerns. They indicate that Uztex contracted to buy US$84 million in equipment from Swiss multinational, Rieter, for two Uzbek operations, Textile Finance Namangan LLC and Textile Finance Khorezm LLC.[33] Rieter is a highly regarded supplier of premium industrial equipment to the textile sector. Following the initial agreements in 2017, Rieter then subcontracted the job to a little known British Limited Liability Partnership, Wayrex LLP.[34] Wayrex LLP is a ‘trade agent for polymeric raw materials’.[35] Wayrex LLP is also a significant holding company in the Uztex group. Rieter was asked why they subcontracted the job back to the very group which had made the purchase, especially given that according to public disclosures Wayrex LLP is a minor trade agent. The company responded ‘it is a common practice in our industry that machine manufactures like Rieter are trusted with the coordination of different suppliers’.[36] Rieter claim only one of the two contracts with the Uztex group went ahead.


Another example from the cluster system involves Beshariq Tekstil and Amudaryotex. These two cluster operators are significant, established textile companies. Investigations revealed that both companies had acted as guarantors for significant loans provided to affiliated Russian companies by Russia’s Starbank. These loans were defaulted on during March 2016.[37] In the same month Starbank lost its banking license and was eventually declared bankrupt. Starbank’s appointed trustee Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency, claims senior Starbank executives, including its Chairman Agadzhan Avanesov, knowingly formed bad debts.[38] Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, claims this bad debt was formed with companies owned by the Chairman.[39]


After corporate filings were analysed, it was discovered that Beshariq Tekstil is part owned by Avanesov, through a British limited liability partnership, Vertical Alliance LLP.[40] Amudaryotex at the time inquiries were made during 2019 was owned by Mirakbar Yakubzhanov, through British holding company, Welroy Technology Ltd.[41] Yakubzhanov and Avanesov are former business affiliates. Avanesov, who is now based in Geneva, denies allegations made by Russian authorities and media. Avanesov claims his commercial relationship with Yakubzhanov ended in litigation, where he was awarded USD1.33 million.[42] Russian media reports from July 2019 claim Avanesov remains wanted by authorities, a claim he denies.[43]


Thinking about Reform and Grand Corruption

The high profile case of Gulnara Karimova projected the image of a political-economy where lucrative sectors were being seized by senior regime figures, and their close affiliates, through opaque means that relied on the covert and improper application of authoritarian state power. These commercial arrangements readily availed of international corporate and financial infrastructure to further conceal activities, launder proceeds, and safely manage assets abroad. The application of coercive state-power was used to intimidate targets of different racketeering operations.


Research into two of the most significant projects shepherded into being by the Mirziyoyev government, indicates that they exhibit some of the same core governance weaknesses and corporate red flags that marked the preceding era. It cannot be factually inferred that the same forms of criminality are generating these red flags. However, in light of previous patterns, their systematic appearance is a matter of serious concern.


In the case of Tashkent City companies closely linked to the Mayor benefited from significant state facilitated investment and construction opportunities, awarded under notably opaque conditions. These companies employ extensive offshore structures which serve to conceal beneficial ownership arrangements. Tashkent City construction activities were prefaced by the use of coercion against residents, while subsequently according to news reports the Mayor has been recorded making threats to disappear journalists. Similarly, the cotton cluster research reveals state facilitated opportunities and aid, was awarded to corporate operators through an administrative process fundamentally lacking transparency. A significant number of corporate operators were found to be opaque, and making active use of offshore holding structures, which served to conceal beneficial ownership arrangements. Serious evidence was uncovered which tied cluster operators to improper activity. Since this study was concluded news reports have appeared, which accuse cluster operators of employing coercive tactics against farmers and workers.[44] In all of the above cases, the Mirziyoyev government potentially breached its own law by failing to respond to lawful requests for public administrative documents.


This data serves as an important reminder. Uzbekistan’s political economy functions through the close integration of authoritarian politics with choreographed market activity. In a country as large as Uzbekistan, there clearly remains space for business to emerge on a licit footing. However, at the upper echelons of society, where some of the most lucrative trade is done, evidence indicates that success is premised in part on political influence, the opaque provision of state aid which gives selected businesses commercial advantages, and the tactical use of illicit commercial strategies to engorge rates of profit and monopolise economic opportunities.


In the post-Karimov era it appears the upper hand has been gained by a more entrepreneurial class of elites, who can navigate this system with dexterity to accumulate wealth across a range of industries. Ground has been lost by a more conservative class of rent-seeking officials tied to the security state. Modest accommodations have also been made to civil society by the Mirziyoyev government. However, this appears to be driven more by reputational concerns that impact on investor/business confidence, rather than a conversion to liberal politics.


It would seem likely the Mirziyoyev government will achieve some success in implementing its modernising agenda. To the extent this grows the national wealth, it will disproportionately benefit elite networks, although this will likely take place alongside a general improvement in the standards of living for the wider population. With a larger economic pie, there is the potential for growing clusters of power to emerge allied to the President, but which also have independent capacity to prosecute political and economic objectives, navigating authoritarian capitalism to the power-cluster’s benefit. Indeed it is no contradiction to imagine that a successful process of authoritarian modernisation will increase levels of grand corruption, as different power-clusters look to game the system to augment their political influence and financial returns. In this scenario, which looks a likely one, opening up civil society, growing democratic institutions, and cultivating genuine agencies of oversight and accountability, constitutes a structure and culture that is highly antagonistic to this system as it stands, and thus is a dimmer prospect.


The outcomes of this prospective balance will be acceptable to many national and international elites who will benefit from a stable system of authoritarian capitalism mediated by certain unsaid national ‘realities’ i.e. systematic grand corruption, while improved standards of living and the continuing limits placed on civil society will weaken the potential for the type of spontaneous uprisings that were observed in the Middle East and Africa. And in a world where authoritarian politics is making a return, as global capitalism struggles with a range of existential threats, Uzbekistan’s state may find itself increasingly the norm rather than the exception.


Of course, even within this prospective balance of forces, there is room for incremental progressive change. As Uzbekistan opens up its capital markets, deregulates industries, and primes privatisation initiatives, economic transactions will increasingly be mediated through the corporate sector. There is a serious need to modernise the corporate law in Uzbekistan in order to strengthen corporate governance and corporate transparency. In line with this, there has been incremental improvements in governmental transparency. These improvements need to be built on. In particular to ensure, for example, open registers of interests are made mandatory for public officials, all public procurement is open and transparent, and important records, such as court documents, are made available to the public in a timely, accessible and unredacted manner.


International jurisdictions have a role to play too. In the UK the government has strengthened corporate transparency, but has failed to prosecute companies which submit false or improper filings. Nor is there a substantive system in place to actively detect irregular filings. Other jurisdictions used by Uzbekistani corporate groups such as Switzerland, Singapore, and Cyprus, are even further behind, with corporate registers that still permit the use of nominee directors, and where required, nominee shareholders. All of which creates an opportunity structure that allows improper dealings in Central Asia to be processed through international corporate and financial infrastructure, with looted value often resting in global centres of wealth, such as London, Paris and Geneva.


Finally, independent civil society in Uzbekistan is vulnerable. It operates under an environment of surveillance, where civil rights are far from assured. Furthermore, as Uzbekistan’s market, financial and public infrastructure rapidly changes, they present new challenges for civil society if it is to hold the powerful to account. This requires capacity building. We are seeing examples in the Uzbekistani media of data-driven journalism that exposes irregular commercial and public transactions. These seeds require nurturing. Resources are needed in order to strengthen civil society’s capacity to fully harness data sources, rights to information, data-processing facilities, and advocacy opportunities, so that the public has access to forensic information on the activities of government and the private sector, synthesised with critical analysis that can enrich the public’s capacity for political agency. Though, with opposition political activity forbidden in Uzbekistan significant limits remain in place on the public’s political agency.


Of course, we face one known unknown in Uzbekistan – the long-term impact of COVID-19 on an already fragile global political-economy. If a global recession is sparked, leading to serious downturn in Central Asia, the more predatory forms of racketeering observed in the Karimova case study may grow in appeal. If this coincides with diminished standards of living for the general population, these structural antagonisms could indeed provide the kindling for more radical forms of political challenge to the status quo, which we have observed for instance in neighbouring Kazakhstan.


Kristian Lasslett is Professor of Criminology at Ulster University, sits on the Board of the International State Crime Initiative and is Co-Director of Uz Investigations. He is an investigative researcher who works on corruption and kleptocracy in Central Asia, Europe and the South Pacific. Professor Lasslett’s work focuses on new ways data science, open source intelligence gathering, digital analytics, and traditional investigative methodologies, can be synthesised to help build theoretically rich understandings of how grand corruption shapes national and international political economy. His most recent book, Uncovering the Crimes of Urbanisation, was published by Routledge in 2018.

Photo by Tashkent City Park,


[1] Cooley, Alexander and Heathershaw, John. 2017. Dictators without borders. London: Yale University Press; David G. Lewis, Tackling corruption in Uzbekistan: A white paper, Open Society Foundations, June 2016,; Alexey Malashenko, Exploring Uzbekistan’s potential political transition, Carnegie Moscow Center, July 2014,;

[2] See for example: Ceccarelli, Alessandra. Clans, politics and organized crime in Central Asia. Trends in Organized Crime 10(3): 19–36; Ilkhamov, Alisher. 2007. Neopatrimonialism, interest groups and patronage networks: the impasses of the governance system in Uzbekistan. Central Asia Survey 26(1): 65–84; Walker, Justine. 2009. Drug trafficking and terrorism in Central Asia: An anatomy of Relationships. Phd Thesis: University of St Andrews.

[3] Edward Lemon, Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Democratization or authoritarian upgrading?, Foreign Policy Research Institute, June 2019,

[4] Transparency International define grand corruption as ‘the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society. It often goes unpunished’. See, anti-corruption glossary, Transparency International,

[5] Mutaxassislar: Sardobadagi falokat sababchisi shamol emas¸ qurilishlardagi dahshatli o‘g‘riliklardir!, Radio Ozodlik, May 2020,; Маҳаллий нашр Сардобада кўпқаватли уйларни қурадиган ширкат Ортиқҳўжаевга алоқадорлигини фош қилди, Radio Ozodlik, May 2020,маҳаллий-нашр-сардобада-кўпқаватли-уйларни-қуриш-ҳуқуқини-олган-ширкат-ортиқҳўжаевга-алоқадорилигини-фош-қилди/30625879.html

[6] Gulnara Karimova sentenced again for corruption, financial crimes, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 2020,

[7] See for example, Dutch prosecution of Uzbek-owned firm, Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, August 2016,

[8] To survey the primary and secondary sources on which this summary is based, see Lasslett, Kristian. Kanji, Fatima. McGill, Daire. 2017. A dance with the cobra: Confronting grand corruption in Uzbekistan. London: International State Crime Initiative. Available online:

[9] See

[10] Dilmira Matyakubova, Who is ‘Tashkent City’ for? Nation-branding and public dialogue in Uzbekistan, Central Asia Program Paper 205, June 2018,

[11] On measures to improve the architectural appearance and improvement of the central part of the city of Tashkent, as well as the creation of appropriate conditions for the population and guests of the capital, Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan Decree, No.559, July 2017,

[12] Letter from B Rizaev, Deputy Director, Tashkent City Directorate, to K Lasslett, Professor of Criminology, Ulster University, 25 April 2019; Letter from E Iminov, Head of Administration Tashkent Mayor’s Office, to K Lasslett, Professor of Criminology, Ulster University, 25 April 2019.

[13] Letter from E Iminov, Head of Administration Tashkent Mayor’s Office, to K Lasslett, Professor of Criminology, Ulster University, 25 April 2019.

[14] ‘It doesn’t matter when a company is created’ – hokim about investors Tashkent City, Gazeta, January 2019,

[15] Phantom foreign investors for an open new Uzbekistan, Open Democracy, December 2018, https://www.

[16] High Land City LLC, Company Extract, 597138; Akfa Dream World LLC, Company Extract, 557636; Premium Village LLC, Company Extract, 538977; Discover Invest LLC, Company Extract, 002784-05.

[17] During the original investigation in 2019 the company extract for Akfa Dream World could not be located. Only one shareholder was identified through stock exchange filings. Subsequently the commercial extract was identified.

[18] Akfa Group CEO Ortiqhojaev named interim Tashkent mayor, The Tashkent Times, April 2018,

[19] For a full breakdown of the data see, Breaking with the past? Conflicts of interest and transparency in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, London: Corruption and Human Rights Initiative. Available online:

[20] Letter from E Iminov, Head of Administration Tashkent Mayor’s Office, to K Lasslett, Professor of Criminology, Ulster University, 25 April 2019.

[21] Techno Continental JSC, Company Extract, 569933; Wynex Innovation LLP, Company Extract, OC393843,; Next Generation Production, Company Extract, 600194; MacMerry Management LP, Company Extract, SL011585,; Perfect Plast Profil JSC, Company Extract, 1633; Esperansa Group LP acquired a 100% stake in Perfect Plast Profil JSC, Tashkent Republic Stock Exchange, July 2018,; Esperansa Group LP, Company Extract, SL025982,; Wide Tent Systems JSC, Company Extract, 1652, accessed 15 September 2019;  Asia Electron, Company Extract, 533066, accessed 19 May 2019;  Quality Electronics, Company Extract, 561905; Factory of Technologies, Company Extract, 600187.

[22] Esperansa Incorporated LP is an English Limited Partnership and is not deemed a relevant legal entity for the purposes of PSC declarations under the Scottish Partnerships (Register of People with Significant Control) Regulations 2017. This is due to the fact English limited partnerships are not subject to equivalent transparency requirements that would permit the public to successfully trace the chain of PSCs.

[23] Farangis Najibullah, ‘No winners in this fight’: Journalists resign after Tashkent Mayor’s ‘death’ ‘gay threats’, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 2019,; Uzbekistan decides against charges over mayor’s threats against journalists, Reuters, November 2019,

[24] Atkhan Akhmedov, Dispossession and urban development in the new Tashkent, Open Democracy, December 2018,

[25] Shavkat Mirziyoyev: There are still 3.5 months before the end of the year, we should determine plans for next year today, Website of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 2018,; Cluster system: Development prospects, Committee on Agriculture and Water Management, Oliy Majlis, May 2019, available online:

[26] On measures to introduce modern forms of organising cotton-textile production, Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan Decree, January 2018,; On additional measures for the further development of cotton and textile industries, Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan Decree, September 2018,

[27] On the openness of the activities of public authorities and administration, Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, No.ZRU-369, 5 May 2014,

[28] Lasslett, Kristian and the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights. 2020. Out of the Cauldron, into the Fire? Risk and the Privatisation of Uzbekistan’s Cotton Sector. Belfast: University of Ulster.

[29] Work as the essence of life – Interview with Mamatjanov Fakhritdin Djuraevich, Uztex Magazine, Autumn 2017, 

[30] Ordinary general meeting of shareholders, InFinBank, June 2019,; Gulnara Karimova’s Terra group bank accounts have been frozen’, Radio Ozodlik, October 2013,

[31] Stavropol Region Arbitration Court, Case No.A63 – 13475/2018, Decision, 19 December 2018.

[32] Stavropol Regional Court Criminal, Case No.22-958/2019, Appeal Decision, 26 February 2019.

[33] Contract No.21425014, Textile Finance Khorezm LLC and Rieter Machine Works Ltd, 10 May 2017; Contract No.21529101, Textile Finance Namangan LLC and Rieter Machine Works Ltd, 27 September 2017.

[34] Agreement between Textile Finance Khorezm LLC, Rieter Machine Works Ltd, and Wayrex LLP, 19 October 2017; Agreement between Textile Finance Namangan LLC, Rieter Machine Works Ltd, and Wayrex LLP, 19 October 2017

[35] Wayrex LLP, Report of the members for the financial period from 1.03.206 to 28.02.2017, April 2017,

[36] Letter from Thomas Anwander, General Counsel, Rieter Management AG, to Professor Kristian Lasslett, Ulster University, 18 October 2019.

[37] Moscow City Arbitration Court, Case No. A40-45399 / 18-25-340, Decision, 23 May 2019; Moscow City Arbitration Court, Case No A40-228454 / 17-25-1453, Decision, 8 May 2018.

[38] Deposit Insurance Agency, On filing an application on bringing subsidiary liability of controlling Starbank JSC, March 2019,

[39] Andrew Zayakin and Irek Murtazin, How are bankruptcy of a bank in Moscow and a fish factory in St. Petersburg connected with the serene life of Russians in Geneva, Novaya Gazeta, August 2018,

[40] Beshariq Tekstil JSC, Company Extract, 35/2, accessed 22 December 2019; Vertical Alliance LLP, Company Extract, OC321610,

[41] Amudaryotex LLC, Company Extract, 94, accessed 8 January 2019; Welroy Technology Ltd, Company Extract, 06857165,

[42] Email from Mr Agadzhan Avanesov to Professor Kristian Lasslett, 26 February 2020.

[43] In St. Petersburg, a wanted co-owner of Starbank was spotted. The investigation believed that he lives in Switzerland, Fontanka, July 2019,

[44] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Cotton clusters and the despair of Uzbek farmers: Land confiscations, blank contracts and failed payments, April 2020,

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