Uzbekistan: Mob War Prompts High-Level Reaction from Police
Police in the capital of Uzbekistan have confirmed the arrest of an alleged gangland figure who they say was aspiring to assume leadership of the city’s criminal community.
A senior police representative informed journalists about the detention of Abboskhon Khodjayev during a September 28 briefing to the media.
“He created a criminal enterprise and was undertaking efforts to consolidate his authority,” Doniyor Tashkhojayev, head of the Tashkent police investigation department, told reporters. “He has been arrested and work is ongoing to identify his associates.”
For now, Khodjayev is facing drug trafficking charges, which are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
News of the arrest was initially reported on September 19 by RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, which cited unidentified sources as saying Khodjayev was charged with trying to sell 0.34 grams of heroin.
This arrest appears, however, judging by the few loosely sourced reports available, to be just one part of a far broader story in Uzbekistan’s underworld.
Ozodlik, which is regularly well-briefed by its security sources, and a Russian website focusing on organized crime news, Prestupnaya Rossiya, both describe how Russian gangland figures have been seeking to elbow their way into the Uzbek scene. After Khodjayev reportedly resisted attempts by these Russian gangs to take control over the Tashkent underworld, one of his associates, Mahamadjon Kurbanov, nickname Mahi, was slashed in the face.
This outbreak of violence evidently sparked a swift reaction from the police at the highest levels. In fact, Tashkent-based Vesti.uz reported, also without naming sources, that the anti-organized crime campaign is being led by the head of Tashkent police, Ulugbek Tursunov, who is the brother of President’s Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s son-in-law, himself the head of the presidential security detail.
But the word to step up the war against Uzbekistan’s criminal underworld came well before the attack on Kurbanov.
In a government meeting on August 2, Mirziyoyev signaled in a highly repetitive, colloquial and cryptic ramble that the campaign was about to get underway.
“If the state cannot guarantee its citizens two things — tranquillity and health — then the people will no longer have any need for such a state. Some street hoodlum cannot rule over everybody. We have two or three such people roaming the Tashkent region. I am still not able to cut the tails off two or three of these guys. We’ve been able to cut off a lot of tails. But two or three of them, they think that everything is going to be just how they want it. But many of them are in prison now. And that is where they will remain. Thank God, I know about everything. So for now I have decided to lengthen the rope,” Mirziyoyev said, meaning by this last phrase that he will be keeping his eye on the main suspected culprits.
The thieves-in-law, as the criminal underworld is generally known, are a leftover of the Soviet era that operates in many countries in the region as a virtual parallel government. Small businesses frequently rely on the muscle provided by mobsters to force debtors to cough up their dues or as a way to gain access to promising real estate. Underworld gangs can, in some instances, act as arbitrators in turf disputes.
But in Uzbekistan, it is the sale and purchase of foreign cash has long been a key source of revenue for organized crime groups. That business has been dealt a body blow by the government’s decision to restore the convertibility of the national currency, the sum, which means regular citizens can trade their money in the bank, instead of having to complete the transaction on a street corner. And since the illegal currency trading business is said to have been operated with the implicit support of the National Security Service, the successor to the KGB, there is also an important intra-elite angle to consider.
Hard to dissent from the laconic Vesti.uz sign-off on its report on the gangland arrest: “All the developments, we have to imagine, lie ahead.”