Government Investment Fund a ‘PiggyBank’ for Conglomerate Tied to Uzbekistan’s First Family

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 English.

Download the report in Russian*.

* The orig­i­nal English lan­guage ver­sion of this report should be employed for cita­tion and review purposes.

Contact

Professor Kristian Lasslett

Email: kak.lasslett@ulster.ac.uk

Skype: kristian.lasslett 

Twitter: @klasslett

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