Tue, Dec 14, 2010 - Page 6 News List

US cables paint Uzbekistan as corrupt, bleak

CAUTION:The messages show the US trying to placate the Uzbek president in order to keep a vital military supply line into Afghanistan running

The Guardian, LONDON

Uzbekistan is a nightmarish world of “rampant corruption,” organized crime, forced labor in the cotton fields and torture, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.

However, the secret dispatches released by WikiLeaks reveal that the US tries to keep Uzbek President Islam Karimov sweet because he allows a crucial US military supply line to run into Afghanistan, known as the northern distribution network (NDN).

Many dispatches focus on the behavior of Karimov’s glamorous and controversial daughter Gulnara, who is bluntly described by them as “the single most hated person in the country.”

She allegedly bullied her way into gaining a slice of virtually every lucrative business in the central Asian state and is viewed, they say, as a “robber baron.” Granted diplomatic status by her father, Gulnara allegedly lives much of the time in Geneva, where her holding company, Zeromax, was registered at the time, or in Spain.

She also sings pop songs, designs jewelery and is listed as a professor at Tashkent’s University of World Economy and Diplomacy.

The cables go some way towards explaining Western ambivalence. They detail how the dictatorial president recently flew into a rage because US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented a Women of Courage award in Washington to a newly released Uzbek human rights campaigner, Mutabar Tadjibayeva.

Karimov’s displeasure was conveyed in “icy tones,” which alarmed the embassy.

“We have a number of important issues on the table right now, including the Afghanistan transit (NDN) framework,” a cable said.

On March 18 last year, US Ambassador Richard Norland submitted to a personal tongue-lashing from Karimov with an “implicit threat to suspend transit of cargo for US forces in Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network.”

Norland claimed to have calmed Karimov down on that occasion, but warned Washington: “Clearly, pressuring him [especially publicly] could cost us transit.”

Gulnara, dubbed the “first daughter” by the diplomats, appeared on the embassy radar in 2004.

Describing trips to sample Tashkent’s raucous nightlife, diplomats said she had been spotted at 3am joining her younger sister Lola in a booth surrounded by four large bodyguards. Lola had arrived in a Porsche Cayenne four-wheel drive — “one of a kind for Tashkent” — and danced all evening with her “thuggish-looking boyfriend” in a club she appeared to own. It served large quantities of imported hard alcohol, the diplomats said, “which is against the law.”

Dispatches over the next five years chronicle Gulnara’s extraordinary rise, allegedly making businesses offers they could not refuse. US businessmen claimed, for example, that after they rejected Gulnara’s offer to take a share in their Skytel mobile phone firm, “the company’s frequency has been jammed by an Uzbek government agency.”

Gulnara acquired interests in the crude oil contracts of Zeromax in “a deal with [a] local mafia boss,” the embassy said.

“Most Uzbeks see Karimova as a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way ... She remains the single most hated person in the country,” a cable said.

The US diplomats paint a harsh picture of overall life in Uzbekistan, reporting there are “close connections between organized crime and the government of Uzbekistan.”

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