Anticorruption campaign in Tajikistan or show?
This April was full of spectacular action-packed detective series of dismissals and arrests of former high-ranking officials of the agency overseeing combating corruption with no precedents in modern history of Tajikistan. Many of them are relatives of high-ranking state officials.
The editor-in-chief of the ‘Akhbor.com’ news website Mirzo Salimpur has prepared the material exclusively for Fergana telling what is behind the purge in the anti-corruption agency, and why this large-scale action in one of the most corrupt states of the world began right now.
Everything started from the dismissal of almost 40 officials of the anti-corruption agency and further arrests. Among most of the charges were ‘fraud’, ‘abuse of authority’, and ‘forgery of documents’. Only one high-ranking officer did not share their fate; he is the son-in-law of the elder brother of President Emomali Rahmon.
Although details of the arrests remain unknown, the sources unveil that a head of the investigative department was caught red-handed when he received a bribe of $120,000 cash for allegedly withdrawing criminal proceedings.
According to ‘Akhbor’ sources the search of house of this former officer revealed $1.3 million in cash, 6 kilograms of gold, bank cards of foreign financial institutions, 50 pairs of suits and 50 pairs of shoes of matching colour, documents proving possession of 31 apartments and two houses in Dushanbe city, the house in the Varzob gorge resort and a house in Austria.
Several moneybags full of cash, gold, and precious stones, and six SUV vehicles were found during the search of parents’ house of another former investigation officer, who is the son-in-law of the former secretary of the Tajik Security Council.
The most valuable assets estimated as $35 million in cash were found under the concrete floor during the search of the parents’ house of the retired deputy head of the anti-corruption agency and his brother, who owns the market and the local football club.
Tajikistan is considered one of the most corrupt states in the world. The Transparency International in its last annual report on perception of corruption placed Tajikistan on 151st place among 176 countries.
But the scope of arrests and wealth found in the homes of the former high ranks of the anti-corruption agency set up in 2007 precisely to fight corruption and bribery shocks many in Tajikistan, where bribery of officials is taken for granted and regrettably is an incorrigible evil.
The society exhausted by the scope of corruption in the country welcomes this series of arrests, and the social media are full of positive responses with appeals not to stop at what was achieved and to finish this dragon devouring the country from the inside.
Although, of course many believe it with difficulty given the authoritarian system of power in Tajikistan. It is also curious that only ‘anti-corruption’ officers are targeted.
The ‘Istiklol’ medical complex project
Over $80 million were invested from the Dushanbe city budget to construct the ‘Istiqlol’ Medical Complex. Two years ago eight developers were arrested during the construction of this largest hospital to be built in the years of independence. They were charged for an attempt to bribe the anti-corruption officers with $458.6 thousand during the inspection of the project site.
The construction executives were sentenced from four to 18 years of imprisonment; a day before the dismissal of the officials of the anti-corruption agency. The ‘Akhbor’ sources close to the trial proceedings state that the convicts decided to drag everyone with whom they shared a large pie from the ‘Istiqlol’ hospital construction project.
The all-powerful hand of the former mayor of Dushanbe Mr Ubaydullaev
Mahmadsaid Ubaydullaev had been Mayor of Dushanbe since 1996 and considered the second head of the republic after President Emomali Rahmon, but was dismissed from this post in January this year without announcing the reasons. President Rahmon appointed his 29-year-old son Rustam Emomali to lead the municipality, who incidentally had led the ill-fated anti-corruption agency before that.
After that Emomali Rahmon called the city structures of Dushanbe the most corrupt and demanded from the Anti-Corruption Agency to inspect the activities of the previous city administration. Then the press reported that Mr Ubaidulloev was questioned by the Agency officers on several major projects of his administration including the construction of the ‘Istiqlol’ hospital and the Affordable Housing state programme.
The arrested former officials of the Agency are now being interrogated for the cases connected with the former administration of the city of Dushanbe. Under the current situation, when many anti-corruption high-ranking officers are dismissed or arrested it seems unlikely that this agency will have time to complete the inspection of Mr Ubaidulloyev's team, and report it to the government by 1 July 2017 as President Rahmon demanded.
Interagency competition of the law enforcement authorities
The Anti-Corruption Agency was created 10 years ago and it deprived other law enforcement agencies - the National Security Committee (GKNB), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor's Office - of powers to lead anti-corruption cases, which have been always considered the most lucrative for investigative bodies. Moreover, the anti-corruption agency made several high-profile arrests of representatives of other law enforcement agencies.
For example, in January 2012 the agency officers arrested the deputy head of the anti-drug department of the police in the Farhara region bordering Afghanistan, which led to his three-year imprisonment. He also is the younger brother of the first deputy chairman of GKNB.
Also in 2016, the anti-corruption agency detained two GKNB operatives.
Now GKNB officers are leading the investigation against the anti-corruption officials, and many see this campaign as the long-awaited revenge of the security officers and the opportunity for other law enforcement agencies to end the competitor.
On the other hand, the Tajik parliament adopted amendments to the ‘Fighting Corruption’ law on 26 April 2017, where the Anti-Corruption Agency's main role is emphasised again.
The case of Zaid Saidov
Most former Anti-Corruption Agency officials who are currently under investigation are directly involved in the case of Zaid Saidov, a well-known businessman and former Minister of Industry of Tajikistan, who was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Agency in May 2013, just one month after the announcement of the intention to create the ‘New Tajikistan’ political party.
Later he was sentenced to 29 years in prison and confiscation of his property. It is believed that the blatant facts of squandering of this businessman's property by these former officials of the Anti-Corruption Agency might affect the situation.
Shadow of Abdufattoh Goyib
Almost all arrested and dismissed officials of the Anti-Corruption Agency were from a cohort of cadres who could achieve high positions and great influence in this agency at the time when it had been led by Lieutenant-General Abdufattoh Goyib (Fattoh Saidov) from 2009 to March 2015. He was replaced by the president’s son Rustam Emomali, and Mr Goyib was assigned to run the Customs Service of Tajikistan.
Sources close to the investigation inform that according to the results of the first interrogations against Abdufattoh Goyib a decision has already been made by the national leadership to dismiss him from his post. Although, other sources state that the Customs Service last year fulfilled the plan for budget revenues by only 90%, and this year - another worse.
What will be next
It is noteworthy that after four weeks have passed no official statement or even a report has been published on who was arrested and for what reasons. All information about the campaign progress comes only from sources close to the investigation, who talk with journalists only anonymously.
Relatives of the arrested and fired Agency officers also remain silent hoping for a favourable outcome for themselves or their loved ones.
The only official comment was made by Director of the Anti-Corruption Agency of Tajikistan about former head investigator and deputy head investigator overseeing corruption in law enforcement and judicial authorities who ‘were dismissed for committing acts that discredit the honour of the Agency officers. On issues related to the initiation and investigation of criminal cases against former Agency officers that are mentioned we cannot provide detailed information in the interests of the investigation until its conclusion,’ the Tajik news agency Asia-Plus reports.
Taking into account the state of affairs on the political arena of Tajikistan, it is likely that the development of this high-profile case would result with only a few former officials brought to justice and imprisoned to calm public opinion, and others would only lose their lucrative posts.
But ordinary people still hope that this is only the beginning of a real fight against corruption in the country.
Mirzo Salimpur editor-in-chief of the ‘Akhbor.com’ news website exclusively for Fergana News Agency