A former government minister in Uzbekistan has been arrested on embezzlement charges in a fresh hint of infighting among the country’s political elite.
Aziz Voitov is suspected of large-scale embezzlement and abuse of power and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, the Supreme Court said in a statement on December 18. No details on the alleged offenses have been provided.
Voitov, 43, had served as Agriculture Minister from 2022 until this October. He was removed from his post two months after his one-time superior, Sardor Umurzakov, was dismissed as head of the presidential administration. Both men previously worked at the Foreign Trade Ministry, where Voitov acted as Umurzakov’s first deputy.
The firing of Umurzakov in August sparked widespread speculation in Tashkent of cracks forming within the apparently monolithic power vertical. While Umurzakov’s star waned, another figure, the daughter of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Saida, saw an upturn in her fortunes. As part of the reorganization within the presidential administration, Mirziyoyeva was named as her father’s aide, essentially making her one of the most important people in the administration.
Voitov is only one of several Umurzakov-linked casualties. Several of the former presidential administration chief’s known associates have to date been either fired or demoted.
There are other clues of a purge of sorts being in the offing. Following news of Voitov’s arrests, local outlets reported on the detention of the head, or khokim, of the Tashkent region’s Bekobod district. Shukhrat Mirzayev, who was appointed to that position just a few months ago, is said to be facing charges of embezzling state funds.
President Mirziyoyev appears to be trying to cast all these developments as part of a broader onslaught against corruption. On December 19, he attended the unveiling of a Tashkent monument symbolizing the ongoing battle on graft.
The 12-meter lattice metal hand pointing upward stands for the “absolute rejection of corruption,” the presidential administration said in a statement.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, which was attended by the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Mirziyoyev said Uzbekistan was ready to “mobilize all its strength and potential” in its “responsible, uncompromising fight” against corruption.
Whatever efforts the government has undertaken since Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 does not appear to have yielded especially fruitful dividends.
The Corruption Perceptions Index for 2022 compiled by Transparency International assigned Uzbekistan a score of 31, where 0 indicates significant corruption and 100 represents a clean bill of health.