Another wave of corruption and bribery-related scandals is sweeping through Turkmenistan. The details were aired publicly during extended highlights of the July 7 Cabinet meeting led, as ever, by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
The meeting was the first outing for the head of the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes, which was created last month, and culminated with the firing of Construction and Architecture Minister Chary Atayev. According to anti-economic crimes agency chief Mammethan Chakyev, the ministry was riddled with corruption.
Chakyev said that close associates of Atayev that had been promoted within the ministry had taken bribes from private companies doing construction work for the government. Furthermore, the construction ministry had allowed the overpayment of funds out of the state budget for buildings being erected under a national rural development program, Chakyev said.
“There are now around 1,900 large premises worth almost $47 billion being built around Turkmenistan. Around 1,800 of them are being built by domestic construction companies,” Berdymukhamedov noted, citing astounding figures.
Despite the money being spend, many building projects are behind schedule, the president grumbled. Addressing the deputy prime minister for construction, Dadebay Amangeldiyev, the president demanded that he devote personal attention to the problem and ensure all work on facilities related to the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games taking place in September be wrapped up on time.
Signing off on Atayev’s dismissal, Berdymukhamedov thundered, as he has done before, that there “will be no place for bribe-taking in Turkmenistan.”
Emphasis being on “will be” rather than “is no,” as Chakyev’s further revelations illustrations.
The anti-corruption chief said that inspections had revealed evidence of bribery at the Finance Ministry, the Economy and Development Ministry, in the banking sector, in the agro-industrial sector, in state chemicals company Turkmenhimiya and in the state roads and highways operator.
Among the offenders named and shamed was the deputy chairman of the state roads and highways agency, Dortguly Gurbannepesov, who Chakyev said had received “large bribes from private entrepreneurs engaged in the construction of highways.” Upon investigations, almost 12,000 packs of cigarettes — a highly sought-after contraband item in Turkmenistan these days — and cash in large denominations were found in his company vehicles. Also, he was found in possession of Tramadol, which is illegal in Turkmenistan.
As to the banking sector, it has been discovered that some people have been “illegally converting non-cash assets into cash with forged documents,” Chakyev said, alluding cryptically to a somewhat unclear criminal scheme. Elsewhere, other officials have been taking bribes to carry out unauthorized currency conversions, he said.
“All these criminals have been deprived of freedom for the requisite period and the funds acquired by them in the form of bribes have been transferred to the state coffers,” he said.
No details have been or are likely to be offered. It is not properly understood if there have been any trials or precisely, in some instances, what specific crimes people have even committed.
State television has instead gone down the performative route, parading offenders in cuffs and beaming images of large amounts of confiscated cash.
It is hardly in dispute that Turkmenistan has a vast corruption problem. In its latest Nations in Transit report, Freedom House scored the country’s corruption ranking down from 6.75 to 7.00, the lowest possible score. The downgrade was “due to evidence of total state capture, extending from petty bribery at the local level to embezzlement at the highest reaches of the government, and new evidence of nepotism for the president’s family,” Freedom House said.
What is much less obvious is how credible and sincere any of these would-be corruption investigations truly are. For a state agency to detect, investigate and even jail people within a month of its creation strains the sinews of credulity to their very limit.
One plausible explanation that has been floated is that the government is seeking to intimidate crooked officials into volunteering larger shares of their ill-gotten gains, either to the beleaguered state coffers or at least to individuals higher up in the food chain.