Tajikistan: Business Rival of President’s Son-in-Law Neutralized
The owner of a leading chain of gas filling stations in Tajikistan is reportedly facing criminal prosecution, thereby clearing the path for a commercial rival who happens to be the son-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon.
Things started looking grim for Radjabali Odinayev, founder of gas retailer Umed-88, on October 14, when Rahmon singled him out for criticism during a meeting with local businessman.
Rahmon grumbled that Umed-88 had some years ago been been granted a 170 million somoni loan ($19.3 million at the current rate) at 18 percent interest with facilitation from the Finance Ministry, but that the company had failed to pay the money back. That interest rate is considered relatively preferential compared to what is offered by Tajik banks.
“Sixty million somoni of this money [Odinayev] owes have gone to paying off debts to Tojiksodirotbank, and 25 million has gone to Amonatbank. The rest he just spent for his own needs. He should answer before the law. Government money is the money of the people,” Rahmon said.
After the president made his remarks, workers started to take down Umed-88 signs across the country. All the company’s 70 or so filling stations have been formally liquidated.
Odinayev’s whereabouts were not entirely certain as of October 21. Asia-Plus cited people close to the businessman as saying that he had fled the country with his family and was now in Dubai. But Prague-based news website Akhbor has reported, again citing unnamed sources, that he has been placed under arrest.
Akhnor had previously reported that anti-corruption officials intended to charge Odinayev on four counts — tax evasion, smuggling, forging documents and fraud.
People close to Odinayev have told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity that the businessman has been engaged in a standoff against a direct competitor, Shamsullo Sohibov, husband of Rahmon’s third eldest daughter, Ruhshona, and owner of the Faroz filling station chain. Sohibov had, according to the sources, been pressuring Odinayev to increase his prices for gas from 3.20 somoni ($0.36) to the liter to 3.70 somoni, so as to reduce the competitive pressure.
Other than Umed-88 and Faroz, the only other significant player on the market is Russian-owned Gazpromneft Tajikistan.
Sohibov is no stranger to benefitting from the legal misfortunes of others. Faroz originally belonged to Umarali Kuvvatov, an oil products trader who was forced out of Tajikistan after a dispute with Sohibov.
“Shamsullo Sohibov is a son-in-law of President Rahmon. He squeezed me out of my business, and I was forced to urgently flee Tajikistan. The president’s family does not tolerate outsiders of any kind doing business in Tajikistan,” Kuvvatov told Moscow-based news agency Regnum in the summer of 2012, talking about his freshly created Group-24 opposition movement.
Kuvvatov went on to create several online video appeals in which he criticized Sohibov directly. He would then be murdered by a lone gunman in Istanbul in March 2015.