Uzbek conglomerate, the Orient Group, has experienced a meteoric rise during the Presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
It stands behind well known brands such as Makro supermarkets, Orient Finans Bank and Golden House. It has been presented internationally as the bedazzled face of the regime’s economic reforms.
A year long study by UzInvestigations, published today, employs an unprecedented range of tracing techniques to provide a rare window into the world of corporate power in Uzbekistan using the Orient Group as a case study.
The report reveals that the Orient Group’s rapid ascendency since 2017 can be attributed, in part, to the significant investment and custom of a boutique equity fund, the Uzbek Oman Investment Company, and the state enterprise Uzbekistan Railways.
Uzinvestigations traced US$187 million in investments made by the Uzbek Oman Investment Company, which exclusively employs capital provided by the Governments of Uzbekistan and Oman. In total 86% of these traced investments went to Orient Group projects.
State enterprise, Uzbekistan Railways, had made a further US$29 million of investment into the Orient Group, while also providing significant custom to the conglomerate’s heavy industry and logistics arms.
The report also uncovered a series of shareholders in the Orient Group not disclosed on the company’s now offline website. They include Oybek Umarov who is the brother of Otabek Umarov, the controversial son-in-law of President Mirziyoyev, who serves as the Deputy Head of the Presidential Security Service.
Financial tracing efforts uncovered a further eight opaque Scottish Limited Partnership shareholders, which have invested US$128 million into the Orient Group.
“The facts we uncovered gave rise to an initial hypothesis that the Orient Group was the beneficiary of political favoritism which was potentially anti-competitive in nature”, claims report co-author Professor Kristian Lasslett.
“When we attempted to dissuade ourselves of this preliminary conclusion by requesting basic tender documents or information that might explain the significant custom given to the Orient Group, we received nothing of any substance from the government or the companies involved”, Professor Lasslett confirms.
Umida Niyazova, Director of Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, which co-authored the report, concludes, “We are seeing increasing wealth inequality in Uzbekistan accelerated by what appears to be a fundamentally unfair playing field”.
“As more wealth accumulates in the hands of those close to senior state officials, the link between extreme economic and political power becomes stronger. This is a significant threat to any prospect of democratisation in Uzbekistan”, Niyazova said.
This report, in summary, provides arguably the most extensive public profile available to date of a major business group tied to the family of Uzbekistan’s President.
“This Power Brief is a stark warning against analysing the market reform process in Uzbekistan in abstraction from ownership structures”, Professor Lasslett concludes.
“If we only examine the economic data, and do not at the same time carefully scrutinise who owns the companies seizing a lion’s share of the economic benefits, there is a risk that a drift into an even greater iteration of authoritarian rule in Uzbekistan will occur in silence”, Professor Lasslett warns.
Download the report in Russian*.
* The original English language version of this report should be employed for citation and review purposes.
Professor Kristian Lasslett