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Powerful Uzbek Official Charged With Corruption

By News Briefing Central Asia

Senior local government officials in Uzbekistan are being targeted in a new anti-corruption drive.

The latest case involves Abdukakhhor Tokhtaev, who resigned as mayor of the capital Tashkent and was arrested three days later. A senior government official who asked not to be identified said Tohtaev, who had been mayor since 2005, had been charged with offences relating to corruption. The official added that at least ten staff members in the ex-mayor’s office were also under investigation.

Staff in the mayor’s office said the arrest followed an accounting probe conducted by the Uzbek security agencies. Sources close to Tokhtaev said he had been is charged with illegally confiscating homes in the city, demolishing buildings, felling valuable tree species and selling the timber.

When this report was published, the prosecution service had not confirmed that charges had been brought.

Tokhtaev’s fall from grace is only the latest in a series of dismissals and arrests.

A few days earlier, Qobul Naqibov was sacked as head of the Tashkent branch of the interior ministry, in other words chief of police in the city.

In late January, Uktam Barnoev, the governor of Samarkand region in western Uzbekistan, was sacked and arrested.

This round of dismissals appears to have been sparked by a speech in December in which President Islam Karimov said corruption should be seen as the principle enemy of the state.

“The time has come to entirely eradicate illegal actions of this kind,” Karimov said, ordering the prosecutor general’s office to take matters in hand forthwith.

A prosecution service official working on corruption issues expressed hope that the latest cases would have a salutary effect.

"We can expect a serious effort, and major changes in the institutions of power," he said.

Bahodir Mirzoev, an independent analyst in Tashkent, said there was strong public support for battling corruption, which he said was a near-universal problem in Uzbekistan.

"Someone up at the top must have decided that people would be reassured if action was taken against Mayor Tokhtaev, one of the most influential officials in the capital city," he said.

Surat Ikramov, who heads the Initiative Group of Independent Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan, is sceptical that the arrests of a few officials reflect a real will to root out corruption from the system.

"All senior officials are implicated in a web of corruption," he said.

Official figures show that between 2008 and 2010, nearly 1,400 employees of government departments were tried on charges of embezzlement, misappropriation, taking bribes and other abuses of their positions. They included six local government heads and 84 members of the security services.

One of the highest-profile cases was that of Azamjon Bahromov, governor of Samarkand region, sentenced to a 15-year term in 2008 for a lengthy list of offences including blackmail, extortion, bribe-taking, wholesale embezzlement of state funds and involvement in organised crime.

In its ranking of world states according to their corruption levels in 2010, the international watchdog group placed Uzbekistan 172nd. It was followed by Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and – in last place at 178 – Somalia.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.