When police close the roads and President Emomali Rakhmon’s fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes hightails it through Tajikistan’s capital several times each day, the ensuing traffic jams cause a fair amount of grumbling.
But the grumbling is not confined to Dushanbe. Apparently authorities in Berlin are peeved, too: They say hundreds of luxury cars in Tajikistan have been stolen off German streets and are being used by the president and his relatives, according to a German media report. And despite Berlin’s repeated requests to redress the issue, Tajik officials are ignoring the appeals.
Using GPS technology, German investigators have traced approximately 200 stolen German luxury vehicles to Tajikistan, including 93 BMWs, reports Deutsche Welle, citing the German tabloid Bild.
There have long been detailed rumors in Dushanbe’s Western diplomatic community that many of the luxury cars plying Dushanbe’s streets were stolen in Europe (and traded, somewhere along the way, for heroin), and that Tajik police officials are unwilling to address the problem.
It turns out, according to Bild, the dispute goes to the highest levels of the Tajik government and that a recent bilateral meeting in Berlin was cancelled because the Tajik foreign minister did not want to deal with the awkward questions. From Deutsche Welle:
When Berlin’s Justice Minister Thomas Heilmann learned of this, he wrote a letter to the German Foreign Ministry in which he noted that most of these stolen cars now belong to “people who are connected to the president of Tajikistan by economic and familial ties,” reports Bild. At Heilmann’s request, former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the Tajik ambassador.
According to Bild, the German Foreign Ministry has repeatedly appealed to the Tajiks on this issue, to no avail: The Tajik authorities refuse to return the stolen cars. In October, former Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi at the last minute refused to visit Berlin, as the government intended to include the issue of the stolen cars on the agenda.
Ignoring a problem is pretty much standard operating procedure in Tajikistan’s government. No doubt, if the reports are true, no one wants to tell Rakhmon that he has to pony up for his own Benz.
UPDATE, December 20: AFP and the Wall Street Journal have confirmed most of this account with German officials. Tajikistan's embassy in Berlin has rejected the allegations.