The march against corruption advances undaunted in Tajikistan. Or does it?
A senior official has been felled in the trumpeted campaign to battle the country's scourge of all-encompassing graft, Russian news agency Interfax reported on June 15. Khasan Radzhabov was serving as adviser to the president on personnel affairs at the time of his arrest by the anticorruption agency.
Interfax cites a law enforcement source as saying that Radzhabov is suspected of embezzlement and bribe taking on a massive scale. No other details are yet available.
What personnel recommendations might Radzhabov have given the president?
He may learn to regret them if they included the March appointment of President Emomali Rahmon's 27-year-old son, Rustam Emomali, as head of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption.
That nod invited immediate suggestions of high-level nepotism, although Emomali appears to have sought to dispel those thoughts by embarking on his job with gusto.
Izzattullo Azizov, an official with the state religious affairs committee, was arrested days after Emomali took up his post on suspicion of soliciting $2,000 bribes from devout Muslim hoping to go on the hajj. That detention was eagerly advertised on the evening news.
Interfax says several other senior functionaries have been arrested since.
There can be little disagreement that Tajikistan has a major corruption problem. The country ranks 152 out of 175 in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.
Of course, where long-suffering Tajiks perceive that corruption flourishing is another matter. Many observers – most notably U.S. diplomats writing unguardedly in leaked embassy cables – have ventured to suggest the real problem lies with the country's leadership.
But fingers in Tajikistan tend as a rule to be pointed by the president, not at him.
Before Rahmon appointed his own son as head of the anticorruption agency, he complained bitterly that the officials tasked with fighting graft were themselves indulging in it. He also said they were being paid to carry out inspections of firms, presumably by business rivals.
The anticorruption agency has indeed in the past stood accused of being used as a cat's-paw for criminal-political factions looking to gain ascendency over others.
It is not encouraging that investigations into alleged corruption appear themselves to be shrouded in secrecy and are revealed to the public mainly through unknown sources.
News of Radzhabov's arrest first tricked out on June 12, when independent news website Asia-Plus cited its informants as saying the security services had run the operation.
In a curious additional detail, Asia-Plus notes that Radzhabov is suspected of committing his crimes while working as assistant to the then-presidential adviser on personnel affairs, Abdudzhabbor Azizi.
Azizi is now deputy speaker of parliament’s lower house, a post he took up in March after almost 15 years working close to the president.