As if Tajikistan didn't have enough problems, now it appears that President Imomali Rahmon's family is beset by intrigue. In a twist worthy of a television soap opera, Rahmon's son, Rustam, reportedly shot Hassan Sadullayev -- his uncle, and the president's brother-in-law -- in connection with a struggle for control of one of the country's leading banks.
The shooting reportedly occurred May 2, with Rustam Rahmon supposedly wounding Sadullayev in the neck with one pistol shot. According to a report distributed by the Ferghana.ru news website, Sadullayev was med-evacuated to Germany for treatment, but he died there May 8.
The motive for the shooting was allegedly a family feud over control of Orienbank, one of Tajikistan's largest financial institutions, according to a report distributed by Uzmetronom, a local Central Asian news website. Sadullayev headed the bank, but in recent months, one of the president's daughters, Takhmina, who owns one of Dushanbe's major construction firms, reportedly sought to wrest control of the bank from her uncle. When negotiations failed to yield an agreement, Rustam Rahmon apparently decided to help his sister resolve the dispute by other means.
Rahmon, according to some reports from outside Tajikistan, has threatened to severely punish any source within Tajikistan who divulges details of the incident, the Uzmetronom report stated. Orienbank's capital assets are reported to be about $47 million.
Reports of instability within the ruling family do not bode well for the country's efforts to resolve a burgeoning social and economic crisis. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The country suffered through severe shortages of heat and electricity during the winter, and is now grappling with spiraling inflation. In addition, the government has faced criticism for corrupt practices in recent weeks from international creditors. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Prior to the reported shooting incident, Sadullayev was considered one of the most powerful individuals in Tajikistan, with authority rivaling that of Rahmon himself.
But in just the last month, several signs have surfaced that suggest Sadullayev's power was fading. The first hint came April 8, when Imruz, a popular radio station controlled indirectly by Sadullayev, suddenly went off the air, due to "technical" issues. After it began broadcasting in the summer of 2007, Imruz gained a large listenership by featuring independent coverage of political developments. It was one of the few stations that provided an outlet for opposition politicians to express their views.
Sadullayev was also embroiled in a protracted court case involving fraud at the Tajikistan Aluminum Plant, one of the country's key economic assets. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Sadullayev was a top official in a company called CDH, based in the British Virgin Islands and responsible for trading much of Tajikistan's aluminum output. The court case has generated controversy in Tajikistan after the public disclosures of the fact that Rahmon's administration has paid $120 million in legal fees to British lawyers, an amount equivalent to about 5 percent of Tajikistan's GDP. Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia.