Tajik Authorities Combat High-Level Corruption and Narcotics Trafficking

Authorities in Tajikistan have recently announced a number of high-profile arrests on corruption and narcotics-trafficking charges. Most arrests were triggered by President Emomali Rahmon’s harsh criticism of the “corrupt” and “nepotistic” practices in the country’s military and law-enforcement sectors. During a televised government meeting on January 18, the Tajik leader lashed out at “commanders of military units and top officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] and State Committee for National Security [GKNB],” for granting privileges to their children and relatives (TV Shabakai Yakum, January 19).

Rahmon specifically warned officials against exempting their offspring from possible prosecution, including through the use of “special” car number plates. Such plates have long been used by the Tajik elites as markers of power and wealth, effectively making their owners immune from police checks (www.eurasianet.org, June 13, 2011). The “golden” numbers, such as “7777” and “8888,” have been reserved for the members of Rahmon’s family until, in early January, Tajik security agencies arrested two traffickers who attempted to smuggle almost 110 kilograms of drugs from the Afghan border to Dushanbe in a car with a “golden” number plate. Although the names of the arrested individuals have not been released, authorities announced that one of them is a son of a “retired general” and another one is a child of a “Tajik diplomat” (www.news.tj, January 27).

This incident has led Rahmon to claim that children of senior government officials are frequently involved in criminal dealings, while ordinary people see the “special” number plates and attribute these crimes to “the president’s relatives.” Following the incident, authorities detained a person who had allegedly produced and sold “fake golden numbers” in Dushanbe. Besides, police were ordered to replace all “golden” number plates with the regular ones (www.news.tj, January 14, 16, 19).

The Tajik president’s anger was also caused by additional evidence pointing to the widespread involvement of senior officers from the police and security forces in narcotics trafficking. On January 6, the country’s anti-corruption agency arrested Rustam Haitov (aka Hummer), who had allegedly headed one of the largest smuggling groups in Tajikistan. The group was involved in trafficking narcotics from Afghanistan through Tajik territory to Kazakhstan and Russia. Some 42 kilograms of opium and heroin were reportedly found at Haitov’s house during his arrest in the Farkhor district, in southern Tajikistan.

The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of Faridun Umarov, who headed a police department tasked with combating illicit narcotics trafficking (UBNON) in the Farkhor district. According to the anti-corruption agency, Umarov used his position to protect Haitov and, at least once, helped him to transport narcotics from the Afghan border, apparently in exchange for lucrative bribes. Other individuals that have been arrested as part of the investigation include the chief of UBNON in the MIA, the head of UBNON in Dushanbe, and several other senior police officials. What has made this case more prominent is that Faridun Umarov’s brother serves as deputy head of Tajikistan’s GKNB, and his uncle is the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. Tajik authorities are now investigating whether Umarov’s influential relatives were aware of his involvement in narcotics smuggling or aided him (Asia-Plus, Radio Ozodi, January 26).

The high-level protection that Rustam Haitov’s group apparently enjoyed has led the Tajik authorities to acknowledge openly the link between government corruption and narcotics trafficking. On January 24, the head of the anti-corruption agency, Fattoh Saidov, told journalists that “not a single narcotics trafficking group can operate without support from senior public officials” in the country. Echoing this statement, the Director of Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency (DCA), Rustam Nazarov, told the media that about 15 organized groups are suspected of smuggling narcotics from Afghanistan. According to Nazarov, what has prevented the DCA from prosecuting the leaders of these groups is that they often mobilize strong protection from the country’s law-enforcement agencies (www.news.tj, January 24, 25).

Also in January, authorities detained a deputy commander of a paramilitary unit of the Committee for Emergency Situations (CES) in northern Tajikistan, with almost five kilograms of narcotics. Another deputy commander of an army unit in Darvoz district on the Afghan border, was arrested with one kilogram of heroin (www.news.tj, January 4, 30).

Tajikistan has emerged as a major transit route for Afghan narcotics to Russia since the early 1990s due to a combination of geographical factors, poverty, and weak security structures. The volumes of narcotics interceptions in the country exceed those of other Central Asian nations combined (www.avesta.tj, September 1, 2011). However, it is estimated that hundreds of tons of Afghan heroin and opiates are still smuggled through Tajikistan each year. Widespread corruption, particularly among the country’s security forces, aids the narcotics trade. Tajik authorities have often been blamed for prosecuting mainly the minor, individual narcotics traffickers, while letting larger groups operate with a degree of impunity. The latest arrests appear to indicate that the authorities are increasingly willing to target high-level corrupt officials involved in – or giving protection to – narcotics smuggling.

(By Alexander Sodiqov, published originally in the Eurasia Daily Monitor 9 (29), February 10, 2012)

10 Comments

Filed under Crime, Drugs, Justice, Nepotism, Police corruption, Tajikistan

10 responses to “Tajik Authorities Combat High-Level Corruption and Narcotics Trafficking

  1. Hi and thanks for a really interesting post. Where do you think these arrests will lead to? Will anything change?

    • It is hard to say at the moment. On the one hand, it does appear that Rahmon genuinely wants to clean up the law-enforcement sector. On the other hand, corruption and nepotism are so entrenched in Tajikistan’s political system that I do not think it would be possible to address them in a systemic way without destroying the very foundations of the state.

  2. Tajikistan: Who Let the Watchdogs Out?

    EurasiaNet.org, February 9, 2012

    The most extensive personnel shake-up of President Imomali Rahmon’s almost two decades in power is going on in Tajikistan. The turnover in the top echelons of government indicates that media outlets are playing an effective watchdog role in Tajik society.

    Rahmon launched the shake-up in early January, sacking several ministers including a close relative, Education Minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov. He also reshuffled top security officials. Subsequently, high-ranking national security and law enforcement officers were arrested for drug trafficking. In addition, the state anti-corruption agency made several high-profile arrests of school directors for allegedly soliciting bribes from students and parents. Corruption in the education system is one of the most sensitive public issues in Tajikistan today.

    Some observers say the personnel moves are a direct response to fierce media criticism directed at Rahmon’s administration recently. In November, for example, a diplomatic spat with Moscow spun out of control and started posing a direct financial threat to many Tajiks after Russian officials began rounding up Tajik migrant laborers, who contribute some 45 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP. The dispute proved a humiliation for Rahmon, who eventually backed down. The Asia-Plus news agency, tapping widespread popular anger over the episode, demanded that Rahmon do something about the daily corruption facing many Tajiks and fire some of his most dishonest ministers.

    Independent-minded media outlets have emerged as a “substitute for a non-existent [political] opposition,” according to Nuriddin Karshibaev, chairman of the National Association of Independent Mass Media (NANSMIT), a watchdog group. With the spread of the Internet, authorities have found it increasingly difficult to control the flow of information in the country. No longer can the government rely on the use of traditional means of coercion, in particular libel cases, to thwart journalistic scrutiny of its actions. “Tajik journalists have gained experience and some outlets are quite successful in presenting the current situation, which is critical. Journalists have been warning the president, presenting both their own vision and quoting knowledgeable experts,” said Karshibaev.

    Political analyst Parviz Mullojanov agrees that the opposition is too weak to mobilize against the country’s “mass corruption,” but does not believe the press deserves all the credit. “The independent media have matured enough to reflect public opinion, but they lack the capacity to form opinion,” Mullojanov said. “Nevertheless, the media are strong enough to convey essential messages to authorities and depict the popular moods.”

    A point that has elicited widespread sniggering in online chat rooms in recent years has been the personality cult forming around Rakhmon. At a government meeting on January 18, Rahmon attacked the state broadcaster for excessive adulation and flattery. The president demanded that executives at state television improve the quality of programming, instead of praising him.

    “There are grounds to think that Rahmon made this remark after he read Tajik private newspapers, which mercilessly criticize official television for [its] mediocrity and groveling,” NANSMIT’s Karshibaev said.

    At that same government meeting, Rahmon lashed out at the owners of expensive cars with “golden number plates” – tags that include sequences like 7777 or 8888. Such plates are distributed only to the friends and relatives of the most influential movers and shakers in the country. Several days earlier, police had detained the driver of a Nissan Patrol bearing a 7777 plate who had, police allege, thrown 106 kilograms of hashish and 2 kilos of opium from the window while fleeing police, local media reported. Rahmon said the plates must be withdrawn from circulation, that everyone must be equal before the law, even his own relatives.

    Despite all the attention-grabbing headlines since the New Year, it is still too early to say whether Rahmon’s responsiveness to the media will last, or is just a temporary phenomenon, according to economist Khojimukhammad Umarov. Observers complain that many disgraced officials are merely being recycled. For example, the ousted education minister ended up in a post that education insiders say is very lucrative — rector of the State Pedagogical University.

    Discontent with government policy remains widespread. The country is experiencing rampant inflation, and, according to the UN, half the population does not have access to safe drinking water. Public expenditures on education and healthcare are miniscule, while officials allow the bulldozing of central Dushanbe to make room for flamboyant and costly government buildings.

    “The recent reshuffling in the government will not have any [positive] impact on the national economy. What we see is the same people, and each of them is close to the president. Most of them [the new appointees] are from Dangara” — the president’s home region — said Umarov. “Besides, there is a serious deficit of professionals in the government.”

    Dushanbe-based analyst and journalist Lidia Isamova believes the new appointments will not lead to substantial changes in Tajik politics, nor significant economic improvements. Tajikistan’s political elite is experiencing a “human resource crisis,” she told EurasiaNet.org. “By and large, the ministers rotate from one government agency to another. Often the change is illogical – a person is just sent away to work in a field he is not familiar with.”

  3. В Таджикистане задержан высокопоставленный сотрудник АКН

    Asia-Plus, 14/03/2012

    Высокопоставленный сотрудник Агентства по контролю за наркотиками при президенте Таджикистана подозревается в превышении должностных полномочий.

    Как стало известно «АП» из источников в силовых структурах, начальник оперативно-розыскного управления АКН, полковник Равшанбек Мирзоахмедов был задержан еще 10 дней назад.

    По неофициальной информации, операция по задержанию Мирзоахмедова проводилась сотрудниками Госкомитета по национальной безопасности совместно с Генпрокуратурой Таджикистана. Другие подробности не сообщаются.

    Между тем, в ГКНБ данную информацию не подтвердили и не опровергли.

    В январе 2012 года в ходе итоговой пресс-конференции глава АКН Рустам Назаров сообщил, что с июня 1999 года – момент создания АКН – по факту коррупции задержаны семь сотрудников Агентства.

  4. Afghan Drug Business Moves Toward Tajikistan

    RFE/RL, March 28, 2012

    Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russian’s Federal Narcotics Control Service visited Islamabad March 27 to discuss combating the illegal drug trade with his Pakistani counterpart Syed Shakeel Hussain.

    Hussain said recently cultivation of opium poppies in the northeastern areas of Afghanistan, along the border with Tajikistan, has risen by 50 percent and that the number of laboratories capable of processing opium into heroin in those Afghan regions has doubled.

    Hussain said that meant the Afghan narco-mafia had targeted Russia and the Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan as the market for their drugs.

    Ivanov handed over to Hussain a list of Central Asians suspected of involvement in narcotics trafficking.

    Ivanov said the list had the names, addresses, phone numbers and other information on “15 citizens of Central Asian states.”

    Ivanov also said there are some 600 drug labs in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province and that he and Hussain discussed a two year (2102-2014) plan for destroying drug laboratories there.

    Ivanov’s visit to Pakistan comes after he announced on March 23 some 60 kilograms of Afghan heroin was seized in recent operations in the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Irkutsk.

  5. Сухроб Шарипов раскритиковал Гула Шерали

    Asia-Plus, 04/04/2012

    В ходе обсуждения законопроекта «Об угле» на заседании нижней палаты парламента страны депутат Сухроб Шарипов подверг резкой критике работу министерства энергетики и промышленности Таджикистана.

    В своем выступлении он отметил, что Таджикистан в течение более 10 лет находится в энергетическом кризисе и население страны не чувствует, что данное министерство работает и добивается каких-либо результатов.

    «Почему в годы независимости в Таджикистане не построена ни одна ТЭЦ, а имеющиеся соглашения о строительстве таких объектов с иностранными партнерами не реализуются. Я имею ввиду соглашение с КНР о строительстве ТЭЦ Душанбе-2 мощностью 270 МВт», – отметил депутат.

    По его мнению, если данное соглашение, которому в скором времени исполнится 4 года, было бы своевременно реализовано, проблема с обеспечением электроэнергией в столице и прилегающих к ней районов была бы решена.

    Отвечая на выступление депутата, министр энергетики и промышленности страны Гул Шерали отметил, что планов у возглавляемого им министерства по выводу страны из энергетического кризиса много и в этом направлении сделано очень много.

    В частности, сказал он, в последние годы в Таджикистане сданы в эксплуатацию ГЭС Сангтуда-1, первый агрегат ГЭС Сангтуда-2, построены свыше 270 малых ГЭС, в высокогорные районы страны доставлено более 2,5 тыс. солнечных батарей.

    «Что касается строительства ТЭЦ Душанбе-2, были некоторые технические проблемы, в том числе обеспечение китайских строителей жильем в городе Душанбе. На сегодняшний день эти проблемы устранены, и я вас уверяю, что в ближайшее время строительство данного объекта начнется», – отметил Гул Шерали.

    По его словам, в скором будущем между Канибадамом и Исфарой в Согдийской области будет начато строительство ТЭЦ мощностью 300 МВт.

    После детального обсуждения вышеназванный законопроект был одобрен депутатами. Данный законопроект был подготовлен группой депутатов нижней палаты парламента страны. Его обсуждение состоялось на заседании Маджлиси намояндагон 7 марта этого года, но, по причине отсутствия на том заседании главы Минэнергопрома, по предложению спикера нижней палаты Шукурджона Зухурова вопрос был снят с повестки дня.

    • Таджикские министры критики не боятся?

      Asia-Plus, 10/04/2012

      Что стоит за критикой министра энергетики Гула Шерали в парламенте: личная инициатива депутата или санкционированный наверху наезд?

      Заметим, что ранее рассмотрение законопроекта «Об угле» было отложено по предложению спикера Маджлиси намояндагон Шукурджона Зухурова из-за отсутствия министра Гула Шерали. И когда глава Минэнергопрома появился в парламенте, он подвергся критике.

      Что означает критика С. Шарипова: личная инициатива самого С. Шарипова или тревожный для министра сигнал о том, что готовится его отставка?

      По мнению независимого эксперта Нурали Давлата, критика С. Шарипова в адрес Гула Шерали – личное мнение депутата.

      – Я давно знаю Сухроба. Он достаточно независимая личность, – говорит Н. Давлат. – Даже когда руководил ЦСИ, он делал критические заявления. Он достаточно смел, чтобы высказывать свое мнение. И это было одной из главных причин того, что его сместили из ЦСИ в парламент, что я считаю ссылкой. Такое влияние на политические процессы, которое он имел в ЦСИ – предлагал, скажем, программы правительству, президенту, Сухроб Шарипов в парламенте не имеет.

      Н. Давлат не думает, что Шарипова кто-то использует в борьбе против Гула Шерали.

      – Для этого есть другие люди, чтобы их использовать в таких целях. Здесь другой вопрос. Гул Шерали говорит, что построили более 200 ГЭС. Тогда, где результат? Не то, что не смогли вывести страну из энергетического кризиса, но даже ничуть не уменьшили напряжения по нехватке электричества, – подчеркнул он.

      Эксперт считает, что критика, как со стороны депутата, так и со стороны СМИ, не влияет на решения правительства в отношении его членов.

      – Я не думаю также, что высказывания Сухроба используют для создания негативного общественного мнения, чтобы потом сместить Гула Шерали. Пожалуй, нет ни одной газеты, которая бы ни критиковала его на протяжении пяти лет. И потом, если думаете, что в связи с критикой в СМИ Гула Шерали снимут с должности, ошибаетесь, не снимут! Если было бы так, давно, например, сняли бы Абдуджаббора Рахмонова, которого систематически критиковали в печати. Не думаю, что для увольнения Гула Шерали организуют информационную кампанию в СМИ.

      Депутат Мухиддин Кабири также считает, что это обычное мнение депутата.

      – Сухроб Шарипов – не тот человек, который может говорить по указке. У него есть свое мнение, и он не раз доказывал это. И если бы была такая установка, скорее всего оно было бы сделано через фракцию и других депутатов, которые имеют больше опыта и более склонны к выполнению таких установок. Думаю, он высказал свою точку зрения и достаточно обоснованно, справедливо. Здесь речь не может идти о какой-либо схеме по отстранению определенного министра, – считает Кабири.

      По его мнению, есть повод критиковать деятельность и других министерств.

      – Я не хотел бы вмешиваться в этот спор, но, думаю, есть повод критиковать и Минэнергопром, и другие министерства, – говорит он. – Они могли бы выполнить свою работу лучше, не довести дело до такого состояния, когда Таджикистан стал полностью зависим от энергоресурсов соседних стран. Можно было бы за это время создать свои альтернативные источники. Для этого необходимо лишь иметь стратегическое мышление и менеджерские качества. К сожалению, у нас многие чиновники назначены по принципу преданности к высшему руководству и другим параметрам, а не по уровню знаний и персональным качествам менеджеров.

  6. Addicted: Heroin stabilises a poor country

    The Economist, April 21, 2012

    TAJIKISTAN is the poorest republic of the former Soviet Union, yet its capital, Dushanbe, is awash with cash, construction and flash cars. It is easy to guess where the money comes from. Tajikistan has little industry but, with a porous 1,300-km (800-mile) border with northern Afghanistan, it is at the heart of a multi-billion-dollar network smuggling heroin. Bizarrely though, unlike other transit countries such as Mexico, Tajikistan sees little drug-related violence. The heroin, instead, seems to help stabilise the place.

    The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that some 30% of Afghan opiates—including 90 tonnes of heroin a year—pass through Central Asia on their way to Russia, most of them through Tajikistan. The trafficking route is the country’s most valuable resource, and its anaemic economy is hooked. Researchers believe the industry is equivalent to 30-50% of Tajikistan’s GDP. But officials from NATO, which is trying to extract itself from the region, say they have no intention of upsetting the status quo.

    The first five years after Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 were marred by civil war. After that, President Emomali Rakhmon consolidated his power through patronage and cash. Foreign diplomats say they have no proof that he is involved in the drug trade, but they point out that those managing the smuggling routes owe their jobs to him or to other high-level officials. They maintain local security in exchange for the state’s hands-off approach.

    For most Tajiks, the alternative is so frightening that they are happy to look the other way. If senior officials clamped down on the trafficking of heroin, they would have to arrest powerful political figures, writes David Lewis of Britain’s Bradford University; this could spark serious violence and possibly reignite civil war.

    Figures from Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency show an 80% drop in opiate seizures since 2001. During the same period the UN drugs office says production in Afghanistan almost doubled. This means only a tiny fraction of the heroin slipping through the region is stopped. Although there are regular busts, they usually involve low-level upstarts with no connections. In this way, diplomats say, officials protect their own trafficking networks, allowing no footholds for smaller players.

    Foreign donors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on border security and counter-narcotics projects designed to cut trafficking and boost Tajikistan’s legal economy. Instead, these initiatives help to control the trafficking by helping officials take out rivals. Donors subsidise basic government functions, including the drugs agency, while watching Mr Rakhmon construct flamboyant new palaces and the world’s tallest flagpole.

    Foreign officials admit to having little incentive to challenge the authorities’ hold on drug smuggling. Besides, taking a large amount of cash out of the economy could plunge the country into chaos. The real mission, says a Western diplomat, is keeping the government happy to assist the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. Every American soldier deploying to Afghanistan flies over Tajikistan, he says. “Are we going to jeopardise that? No way.”

    A European official says the people doing the trafficking are the same counter-narcotics people that Western countries are training. “We give them cars, and they use them to transit drugs—look at their houses,” he says of the mansions cropping up around town.

    For the average Tajik, life remains a struggle. Tajikistan is the country most dependent on remittances in the world. Transfers from the million or so Tajiks living abroad are equivalent to 45% of GDP. Poverty is widespread: half the country’s 7.7m people live on less than $2 per day. In winter many villages have only two hours of electricity a day.

    With the economy so addicted to heroin, there is little incentive to build or produce other things. Meanwhile, Porsches continue to cruise around Dushanbe, often stolen in Europe and traded for drugs along the Silk Road.

  7. Pingback: Tajikistan: The Economics of Drug Trade in a Poor Country · Global Voices

  8. Pingback: Tadsjikistan: Økonomien bag narkohandlen i et fattigt land · Global Voices på dansk

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