The game of pass the parcel with one of Tajikistan’s rare industrial success stories has now led to a promising fertilizer plant being taken over by Chinese investors.
The lower house of parliament on December 14 ratified a deal between Tajikistan and China for Henan Zhong-Ya holding group to assume control of OAO Azot in a deal that will require the company to invest $360 million over the coming three years.
All in all, the deal is a sweet one for Henan Zhong-Ya. Azot will enjoy a tax holiday for a six-year period as it gradually ramps up production. The plant specializing in the production of carbamide, or urea, an organic compound used in fertilizer.
The plant has been standing idle since it was nationalized at the expense of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash in 2014.
For the first 10 years of resumed operations, the plant will be 51 percent owned by the Chinese, while the remainder will be held by the Tajik government. The general director of the company will be Chinese.
Annual demand for carbamide in Tajikistan is around 360,000 tons, an amount it now imports at a cost of $50 million. The plant, which is situated in the southern Khatlon region, is slated to reach annual output of 200,000 tons of carbamide within the first two years.
Under the bilateral agreement, 30 percent of profits will go to the Tajik state and the rest to the Chinese partner.
There is a requirement, however, that half the employees must be Tajik nationals at the start to operations, and that this number must increase to 90 percent within 18 months.
On the morning of December 14, a 48-year old woman in Astana, Maira Rysmanova, succumbed to injuries sustained after she set herself alight in a desperate protest in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Rysmanova resorted to the gesture in a plea for a review into the case of her son, who she said had been unjustly prosecuted on drug possession charges.
The tragedy is fresh reminder of the deeply held conviction among many Kazakhstanis that the country’s courts operate arbitrarily and do not provide real justice to defendants.
Rysmanova was one of four women who walked up to the front entrance to the General Prosecutor’s Office on December 4. As she reached the spot, she removed her outer clothes, doused herself in gasoline and set fire to herself with a match. Guards quickly tried to put out the blaze and called an ambulance.
Rysmanova was treated for the burns, which doctors said covered 60 percent of her body, at Astana’s Hospital No 1.
It later emerged that Rysmanova was driven to the act by the fate of her 28-year old son, Yerbol Akhmetov, who she believed to be innocent. In June 2015, the Shu distruct court in the Zhambyl region sentenced Akhmetov to four-and-a-half years in jail on charges of possessing drugs — namely, 3.5 grams of heroin and 285 grams of hashish. Akhmetov appealed his conviction, which was upheld up in August.
In a renewed bid to seek her son’s release, Rysmanova filed a complaint about the case with the General Prosecutor on November 28. The prosecutor’s office requested further investigation into the case, but that does not appear to have brought any quick results.
Kyrgyzstan has made an about-face on a recently introduced law requiring foreign visitors to register within five days of arrival.
The change of tack followed weeks of indignant protest from people working in the tourism industry, who warned that the rule would cause job losses and damage the economy.
On December 19, the government is due to approve a list of 90 countries whose citizens will not require visas or immediate registration, as had been the case prior to the changes of rules in November. The rule applying to citizens of Western European and North American countries, as well as Australia, South Africa and a few South American nations, will be for registration within 30 days.
Citizens of a handful of nations with bilateral agreements with Kyrgyzstan will be allowed to remain in the country without registration for periods of up to 90 days.
The difficulties that foreigners experienced trying to stay within the new rules brought in on November 5 were well covered by some local media, who showed how government registration offices were struggling to cope even with its existing workload, registering Kyrgyz passports and birth certificates.
The state registration service provided foreigners with information about new rules only in Russian, which was also the only language used for the forms, creating a major barrier for many unwitting tourists from the get-go. Visitors also told reporters that border officials failed to inform them of the new rules upon arrival, leaving them even more adrift.
A deeply troubled bank in Tajikistan is promising its customers that there is light at the end of the tunnel, although it is a mystery how it is pulling off the trick.
Tojiksodirotbank, the country’s second-largest lender, told some account-holders on December 13 that it will soon be in a position to pay out savings, ending months of worry for clients unable to get their hands on their money.
Signs that some things have begun to revert to a semblance of normality came earlier in the day with news that the bank’s former chairman and part owner, Tojidin Pirzoda, was being reinstated. Pirzoda was reportedly squeezed out of the bank in May along with six top executives as the lender was bing taken into administration by the National Bank of Tajikistan. Only Pirzoda is back so far, according to EurasiaNet.org sources.
An official announcement about the payment of deposits has not yet been made, but it is reportedly imminent.
The riddle is who or what is stumping up the cash. Tojiksodirotbank has been badly hit by its exposure to bad loans and collapse in the value of migrant remittances. It has previously announced it was in talks of a buyout by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), but that has yet to materialise.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited Pirzoda as saying the money came in the form of a rescue package from the government. It is this money that will be pass on to account-holders, he said.
Asia-Plus news website reported, citing its own sources, that the bailout package was for 2 billion somoni ($250 million at the official rate) and that the government now owns an 80 percent stake in Tojiksodirotbank.
Kyrgyzstan’s voters will head again to the polling stations this weekend for a constitutional referendum intended to rebalance powers between the president and the prime minister, as well as enshrine several conservative norms aimed at pacifying the country’s traditionalists.
The December 11 referendum is being pushed through in the teeth of resistance from opposition parties and nongovernmental groups, earning them contempt from President Almazbek Atambayev.
The main amendments concerning the running of the country will bolster the role of the prime minister, who will be able to hire and fire ministers and local government leaders. Proponents of the amendments say the increased authority of the prime minister will ensure continuity and put an end to the regular turnover of heads of government that has been the trademark of Kyrgyzstan’s politics.
Critics maintain, however, that this tinkering is all about Atambayev and his associates clinging onto power. Atambayev is constitutionally required to step down when his single term ends and to give way to the president elected in October 2017. The argument of the revamped constitution’s opponents is that the current elite is rearranging the furniture to ensure they remain in charge even after the presidential transition.
There are multiple other changes, however, that will have a more direct impact on citizens.
One regards a change to rules on the appointment and rotation of judges of local courts, whose position will now be determined by the president, upon advice from the Council of Judges. Critics of this change, which include Venice Commission, an advisory body to the European Council that rules on matters of constitutional law, worry about its detrimental impact on the independence of judiciary.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have lashed out at social media and, in particular, how it is being used to say mean things about President Almazbek Atambayev.
In recent days there have been two reports of Facebook users being called in for a stern talk with the security services for things they have written — or might have written — about Atambayev. Nobody has been charged, yet.
There was a surge of hubbub on social media last week when news broke of one man being reportedly grilled over suspicions he is the mind behind Murch, an anonymously run Facebook account that serves as a repository for lowbrow political humour.
Jomart Jamgyrchiyev, a native of Issyk-Kul region, was hauled in by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, at the beginning of the month in Karakol along with several relatives. Investigators told him that photos that appeared on Murch, which has around 6,000 subscribers, had been linked to his computer’s IP address.
Although it is not clear that the photos concerned Atambayev directly, most of Murch’s fairly infantile jibes do. A recent post that garnered a lot of attention, for instance, featured a photoshopped image that showed Atambayev squatting on a toilet.
The ever-vigilant authorities then followed up with a similar swoop on December 7, according Temirlan Ormukov, who claims he was called into the General Prosecutor’s office to discuss a poem he wrote about Atambayev on Facebook.
Security forces in Kazakhstan carried out a special operation in the western city of Aktobe on December 7 to break up an alleged group of Islamist radicals stealing and reselling oil and oil products.
The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that several people have been detained and several tanker trucks confiscated following a special operation at an oil refinery in Aktobe. The raid was carried out together with officers from the anti-corruption agency.
No further information was provided about the identity of those detained or the means by which the oil goods were being resold.
Claims of collusion between criminal gangs and radical Islamists are not new for Kazakhstan. Following a series of terror blasts in 2011, authorities spoke about how criminal group operating under the guise of Islamists were siphoning oil directly from pipelines in western Kazakhstan. Likewise, the head of the anticorruption in June 2014 announced that authorities had broken up a transnational crime group led by a Salafist was stealing oil in the Aktobe region.
The repeated occurrence of such investigations highlights the extent of interdependence between regular financial crime and terrorism in Kazakhstan. While officials have on occasion tried to present one as a convenient cover for the other — underground radical Islamist groups as a good recruitment base for criminal gangs — the phenomenon appears to suggest a far more symbiotic relationship.
A man in northern Kazakhstan has reportedly been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail after he called for part of the country to break away and become part of Russia.
Russian news agency Sputnik reported on December 5 that a court in the North Kazakhstan Region ruled that Igor Chuprina had violated two laws — one on disseminating propaganda undermining the country’s territorial unity and another on inciting interethnic hatred through his social media posting.
The trial underlines the enduring anxiety provoked in Astana by the roiling conflict in Ukraine, whose government remains mired in a war with Russian-backed militias in the east of the country seeking independence or possible unification with Russia. Northern Kazakhstan has a substantial ethnic Russian minority.
The court in Petropavlovsk found that in September 2014, Chuprina used his cellphone to log into social media website VKontakte, a Russian analogue of Facebook, and posted disparaging posts about Kazakh people. The posts reportedly lasted until May 2015..
The messages “provoked negative reactions and social tension, and fueled conflict and the emergence of a type of anti-constitutional civil and political conduct, expressed as incitement to ethnic hatred, and also constituted a potential for compromising the [territorial] integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the court ruling noted, according to Sputnik’s report.
Those responding to Chuprina’s thread on the VKontakte page are also being investigated, Sputnik reported.
Just a few days after the former head of the tax service in Kazakhstan was appointed to serve as deputy to the chief of the security services, another senior tax official has been handed a top job in the defense ministry.
The presidential administration announced on December 1 that Abylkair Skakov would be moving from his post as head of the tax inspectorate in the capital, Astana, to become deputy defense minister.
Both appointments appear to stem from the government’s ongoing efforts to reduce graft and optimize financial efficiency, both key priorities as the economy faces the prospect of indefinite stagnation amid depressed prices for oil.
When Daulet Yergozhin was named as the new deputy head of National Security Committee, or KNB, even his colleagues were candid about the sense of the move.
“Daulet Yergozhin has shown himself to be an effective manager everywhere he has worked. He is a very upstanding person. I hope that [he] will also be effective in the fight against corruption, which is the main threat to our national security,” former deputy tourism and sports minister Bahytzhan Shengelbayev said on his Facebook account.
It is customary for top officials in the former Soviet space to speak notionally about corruption posing a security threat, but this is as concerted an effort to address the issue as the region has seen for a long time.
The twin KNB and Defense Ministry reshuffles look like a pincer movement on the armed forces. The KNB has not been heavily invested in investigating financial crime in recent years, and has focused more on antiterrorism or, in some cases, going after prominent figures in the opposition.
Tajikistan’s Interior Minister has reportedly written a poem in honor of the president, and the head of the security services has written a warm review of the work.
The recent national outbreak of lyrical devotion to Emomali Rahmon was the result of a poetry competition announced by the Interior Ministry to mark the newly created President’s Day, to be henceforth observed annually on November 16.
The requisite tone was set in state-run newspaper Jumhuriyat, which on November 9 published a ripe piece of verse consisting of 55 couplets entitled “In Praise of the Leader of the Nation.” The poem was signed under the enigmatic nom de plume Nihon, the Tajik word for secretive.
And nobody would likely have given the doggerel a second — or even a first — glance had the head of the State Committee for National Security, Saymumin Yatimov, not published a complimentary review of the poem on President’s Day.
As Tajik news website Akhbor has revealed, Nihon is none other than Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda.
According to Akhbor’s investigations, Rahimzoda has been honing his lyrical skills ever since he was a mere stripling of man, although he has refrained thus far from sharing his oeuvre with the world.
The revelation of Rahimzoda’s artistic bent has given rise to suspicions that it is this that may lie behind his ministry’s predilection for holding regular evening poetry and musical performances. Notices for such events are routinely posted on the Interior Ministry website, in between wanted bulletins and statements about the latest arrests, many of them involving members of the opposition.