As the fallout from a criminal investigation targeting Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov, continues to resonate in Uzbekistan, several high-ranking law-enforcement officers have been arrested on corruption charges in Tashkent.
The two probes may not be linked, but the latest arrests suggest that the elite infighting that has destabilized Uzbekistan over the last year may be spilling into a turf war between the country’s powerful security agencies.
The latest investigation targets the State Customs Service. Among the senior officers rounded up were the head of customs for Tashkent Region, Lieutenant Sirozhiddin Gulamov, and his deputy, Umar Bekov, Uzbekistan’s Podrobno news agency reported on September 30.
Another of the five detainees named was Major Abdusattor Abduraimov, the head of the Oybek border crossing on the frontier with Tajikistan. A chief inspector from Oybek and another inspector from the Gisht-Kuprik crossing on the frontier with Kazakhstan (better known as Chernyayevka), were also arrested, the report said. It quoted an unidentified source in the customs service for Tashkent Region, where both crossings are located.
The detainees are suspected of setting up an extortion ring and have already been charged with several crimes, including bribery, Podrobno said. They are alleged to have extorted money from entrepreneurs crossing official border checkpoints, where shakedowns are common during what is often a protracted and stressful process.
The arrested officers are also suspected of making appointments within the ranks of the customs service for bribes—in other words, selling coveted official positions.
An official at the State Customs Committee, contacted by telephone by EurasiaNet.org on October 1, declined to confirm the arrests or comment on the reports. Neither the General Prosecutor’s Office nor the Tashkent Region customs service could be reached for comment.
However, reports of the arrests have been widely carried in Uzbekistan’s tightly controlled domestic media, suggesting that the release of the information was officially sanctioned.
The splash these reports have made in Uzbekistan’s media comes in sharp contrast to the press’s veil of silence over the criminal investigation into Karimova's affairs.
While the international media has had a field day over the recent announcement that Karimova (who is under unofficial house arrest in Tashkent) is being investigated over suspected ties to an organized crime ring, Uzbekistan’s media has remained tight-lipped on the scandal. Karimova – who is also a suspect in a Swiss money-laundering investigation – denies wrongdoing.
The latest arrests follow unconfirmed reports in June that two senior customs officers controlling a multi-million-dollar illegal smuggling ring had been arrested in Uzbekistan.
Publicity about high-profile arrests on graft charges is rare in Uzbekistan. The latest operation was reportedly conducted by the domestic intelligence agency (SNB), suggesting that if a power struggle is under way within the security apparatus, the SNB is leading the charge.
The SNB has also been embroiled in the case of Karimova, who has suggested that its influential director, Rustam Inoyatov, is seeking to turn her father against her as part of a power grab.
Uzbekistan is entering a critical political period as a presidential election approaches in March. The aging, long-serving Karimov – who will turn 77 in January and has been in power for over two decades – has not said whether he intends to stand.