The world’s largest aluminum company says it has won $275 million in damages from Tajikistan’s largest enterprise.
Moscow-based Rusal said in an emailed statement on October 16 that a Swiss tribunal had found the Tajik Aluminum Company (TalCo) in breach of two 2003 agreements with Rusal subsidiary Hamer Investing, Ltd. Under those agreements, Hamer had supplied TalCo raw materials for which the state-run Tajik company had failed to pay. The tribunal ordered TalCo to pay damages in excess of $112 million, approximately $147 million in interest, and almost $15 million in legal fees, the Rusal statement said.
The statement also said the tribunal had thrown out TalCo’s $400 million counterclaim, in which the company argued that Hamer’s original contracts should be deemed invalid as they had been won by corrupt means.
Rusal “intends to make every effort to enforce the award in all relevant jurisdictions in the event that TalCo does not voluntarily comply with the award,” the statement said.
TalCo spokesman Igor Sattarov said the Russian giant had broken a confidentiality agreement. In comments carried by the Asia-Plus news agency on October 16, he suggested that TalCo could appeal since, “according to international norms, the [legal] procedure is quite long and provides for a few more stages” – including a hearing in a Tajik court.
Anyone who has visited Kyrgyzstan won’t be surprised by this news: Kyrgyzstan, officially, has some of the best honey in the world.
The Kyrgyz Union of Beekeepers took home five medals – three gold and two silver – at the biannual International Apicultural Congress held this month in Kyiv. Representatives from over 100 countries participated in the event, dubbed Apimondia.
At the Union of Beekeepers in Bishkek, the phones were ringing off the hook this weekend as chairman Kazim Karaketov feasted his eyes on the awards.
“We had no idea what a diamond we held in our hands. Only the global community could evaluate the true worth of our honey,” Karaketov told EurasiaNet.org.
Among Kyrgyzstan’s gold medal winners was the creamy white honey from the high-altitude region of At-Bashi in Naryn Province. A wax figure of a beekeeper wearing a kalpak, the felt Kyrgyz national hat, won a gold in the “beeswax model” category, beating an Indian entry; Kyrgyzstan also beat Slovakia for a gold in a category that considered display cases for selling honey.
Dark honey from Issyk-Ata in Chui Province and beeswax candles took silver medals in their respective categories.
Karaketov said that while choosing what to present at Apimondia, the union looked for products that had won praise at local contests. His sole regret: Kyrgyzstan presented only five products because it costs 180 euros to enter each. “Everything comes down to finances. We took a risk, but we should have risked more!” Financing problems had kept the union from participating in the past.
Tajikistan’s presidential race just got a lot less interesting.
The only serious opposition candidate for the November election says she has failed to register. Oynihol Bobonazarova, a human rights activist, says authorities made it impossible for her to gather the required number of signatures to enroll as a candidate.
Bobonazarova, the candidate for the Union of Reformist Forces, had previously accused police of interfering in her campaign and harassing supporters who were trying to collect signatures. She said this morning she collected just over 201,000 signatures; the Central Election Commission requires 210,000.
"My opponent was not only [incumbent strongman Emomali] Rakhmon, but the whole state machine," Bobonazarova said at a news conference October 11, Asia-Plus reported. She added that government officials even tried to prevent her from getting the necessary stationary: “I didn’t think there would be so many obstacles and difficulties” to collecting signatures.
Six other candidates, including Rakhmon, have registered. Several are from so-called “pocket opposition” parties designed to bestow on the exercise the image of plurality, but which are loyal to the president.
Bobonazarova’s candidacy had excited the urban, online intelligentsia. She was the surprise choice of the two main opposition parties – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the Social Democratic Party – which have failed to inspire, and overcome relentless government-backed smear campaigns, in recent elections. Besides being a female candidate in a conservative country, Bobonazarova came with bona fide activist credentials, untainted by business dealings or a flashy past.
Since the infamous comic character Borat burst onto the world stage seven years ago, Central Asian states have had trouble shedding their images as tinpot dictatorships run by vainglorious, venal leaders.
Kazakhstan, the fictional home of Borat, has since spent millions on PR buffing its image. So news that a TV series lampooning the Central Asian states à la Borat – with some uncomfortable parallels to the truth – is about to air in the UK will come as an unwelcome shock.
As The Independent reports, the show Ambassadors, airing on the BBC2 channel from late October, is set in the fictional country Tazbekistan, a hybrid of the real-life Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.
“The fictional Tazbekistan is run by the dictatorial President Kairat who presides over a regime with a dubious human rights record,” reports the newspaper, a description that will sound familiar (albeit perhaps not amusing) to the inhabitants of the Central Asian states.
The authoritarian leaders of real-life Tajikistan (Emomali Rahmon), Uzbekistan (Islam Karimov), and Kazakhstan (Nursultan Nazarbayev) may not take kindly to this depiction – and they may be surprised to learn that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has assisted in the program’s making.
The series's writers spent time at the British Embassy in Astana and were given access to other diplomats to learn about the realities of the diplomatic lifestyle.
It may be just an accident: the consequence, for example, of aging infrastructure. But a derailed troop train from Tajikistan passing through rival Uzbekistan is likely to draw scrutiny.
The train carrying almost 300 passengers en route from Dushanbe to northern Tajikistan slipped off the tracks early October 10 in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh Region, injuring several dozen people, most of them conscripts, Asia-Plus reported. Radio Ozodi reported 52 injuries. There are no reports of fatalities.
Asia-Plus said there were about 200 recruits and several officers on board.
No rail lines connect Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, with northern Sughd Province, which is in the Fergana Valley, forcing all train traffic to pass through Uzbekistan. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1980s, when both countries were constituent republics of the Soviet Union. But today the two independent countries barely speak. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to Tajikistan’s plans to build a giant hydropower plan upstream, fearing it will give Dushanbe economic leverage and control over the region’s limited water resources. Uzbekistan's president has said it could lead to war. Tashkent often looks like it is trying to blockade isolated Tajikistan – closing borders, halting freight, turning off gas supplies – in apparent attempts to prevent construction at Rogun.
NATO logistics officers dependent on Uzbekistan’s rail network to haul supplies out of Afghanistan are likely to take notice.
The governor of Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Province was taken hostage for several hours on October 7 in the latest bout of unrest related to a controversial, Canadian-owned gold mine. Hundreds of protestors, including some on horseback, continued to clash with police late in the evening.
Protestors grabbed Emil Kaptagaev, who has been governor only since a summer shakeup that followed violent riots outside the nearby mine in May, and stuffed him into a car. Some reports said the rioters wanted to nationalize the mine, Kumtor; others said they wanted the government’s stake in any future deal to be no less than 70 percent.
Kaptagaev was released around 7 p.m. local time amid unconfirmed reports he had been drenched in gasoline and threatened with matches.
Several hours later, protests flared up again, with police reportedly employing stun grenades and tear gas in failed attempts to disperse rioters throwing rocks and pouring petrol on the road, according to Kloop.kg.
A press officer for the local police told Kloop.kg earlier in the day that the protestors were supporters of Bakhtiar Kurmanov and Ermek Dzhunushbaev, who were arrested last month for allegedly trying to extort $3 million from Kumtor.
Few in Bishkek believe protests like this happen spontaneously. Instead, they are often attributed to criminal gangs or politicians trying to extort money from the mine, the largest legitimate business in Kyrgyzstan. In a good year Kumtor accounts for 12 percent of GDP and half of industrial output.
One of the biggest businessmen operating in Tajikistan’s capital has admitted he’s been laundering Iranian oil money for years.
In August, EurasiaNet.org highlighted the Tajik wing of Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani’s transcontinental financial empire. The US Treasury had frozen Zanjani’s accounts earlier this year for allegedly helping Iran sell its oil, despite international sanctions. The EU has blacklisted him for the same. Now, under pressure at home, he says that’s exactly what he’s been doing all along, the New York Times reports, referencing an interview with the weekly Aseman magazine.
Beginning in 2010, Mr. Zanjani, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the magazine and, in a separate meeting, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency that he used a spider web of 64 companies in Dubai, Turkey and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of oil, earning $17.5 billion in desperately needed foreign exchange for Iran’s Oil Ministry, Revolutionary Guards and central bank.
“The central bank was running out of money,” he said in the Aseman interview, published last week. In 2010, “they asked me to bring their oil money into Iran so the system could use it,” Mr. Zanjani said of Iran’s political establishment. “So that is what I did.” […]
“This is what I do — antisanctions operations,” Mr. Zanjani said. “I am a businessman who has done his job well. Since I was placed under sanctions they haven’t managed to sell even three million barrels of oil.”
The lead author of a controversial bill that would label most of Kyrgyzstan’s non-profit organizations “foreign agents” says the country must protect itself from foreign “sabotage” and “sexual emancipation.”
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org this week, MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former human rights ombudsman, said he was inspired by almost identical legislation that came into effect in Russia last November, but that he’d been musing over the idea since 2006. The bill would require organizations that accept foreign funding and supposedly engage in “political activities” to identify as “foreign agents,” a term widely understood throughout the former Soviet Union to denote traitors and spies.
Though President Almazbek Atambayev said on September 19, during a visit to Brussels, that he would not support the bill, Bakir uulu says the president has made a “shallow statement to please the West” and would eventually fall into line.
Noting that the bill mirrors the Russian law, on September 27 a coalition of human rights groups led by the International Partnership for Human Rights, said the sweeping draft law “appears primarily aimed at the same category of groups that has been the main target in Russia, i.e. human rights NGOs and other groups that are inconvenient for those in power.”
Critics have also noted that foreign governments fund parts of Kyrgyzstan’s budget, in effect turning Bakir uulu himself, as a paid government employee, into a foreign agent.
When confronted with this irony, Bakir uulu said the questioning suggested EurasiaNet.org was a foreign agent.
The interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length.
A member of Kazakhstan’s parliament has called for a new law banning “homosexual relations,” upping the ante in the homophobic rhetoric that erupts from time to time in the legislature.
Deputy Bakhytbek Smagul urged Kazakhstan to follow the lead of countries that criminalize homosexuality and draw up a bill to “root out homosexual relations,” and ban anything perceived to promote homosexuality (following Russia’s lead).
The arguments put forward by Smagul – who sits in parliament for the ruling Nur Otan party, headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev – were convoluted, touching on family values, demographics, and the “national mentality,” before invoking the ancient cultures of Central Asia and Kazakhstan’s location in a “strategic region.”
“It is obvious that when the Kazakhstani national ideology is being shaped we cannot look at the future of the nation outside the family,” Smagul told parliament on October 2 in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
“However, it is worth pondering what the level of development of the institution of the family will be in a country if such homosexual relations are openly advocated. In Central Asia, where ancient cultures intersect, and [in Kazakhstan,] as a state that is an active member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, this phenomenon damages the image of our country and its domestic policy.”
The World Bank released summaries of the first two studies in a series of long-awaited reports on Tajikistan’s controversial Rogun hydropower dam this week. Prepared by French consultancy Coyne et Bellier, the technical assessments are designed to help Tajikistan make informed engineering decisions about the complicated project.
Depending on how you read the carefully worded reports, which have been reviewed by Tajik officials, they could be seen as a victory for either Tajikistan or downstream Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to the project, arguing that it is not safe and that it will give Tajikistan unfair control over water resources. President Islam Karimov has even said that such a project could lead to war.
Yet the reports also allow Tajik officials to argue that everything is under control, that the consultants outlined necessary, but manageable repairs.
For certain, the reports recommend what sounds like a lot of repairs to previously built structures, and expensive-sounding mitigation efforts to address an underground threat.