When the Country is a Business

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Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest country, recently got some very modern equipment. In 2017, over 600 high-tech diagnostic laboratories — capable of performing DNA tests, genetic analyses, and other procedures — were installed at medical centers across the country. The labs were introduced as part of a partnership between the government and a private company called Faroz — and this was neither the first nor the last time the firm has enjoyed such a privileged deal.

In fact, Tajiks come across this name frequently in their daily lives. Faroz is engaged in a wide range of fields, including oil and gas, mining, customs terminals, driving schools, spas, a winter sports complex, a bank, and other private businesses.

A slick promotional video associates the company’s success with that of Tajikistan: “Faroz. A national company for the good of the nation.” And this success is often publicly applauded by President Emomali Rahmon, who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years. Whenever Faroz unveils a new project, Rahmon can be counted on to cut a ribbon, offer some kind words, or strike a photogenic pose.

But why would Tajikistan’s unchallenged ruler show such high-level interest in the activities of a private company? As it turns out, there’s a good reason: It’s all in the family.

The key figure is Shamsullo Sakhibov, who is married to one of the president’s daughters. As Rahmon’s son-in-law, the 36-year-old Sakhibov occupies a powerful position in a country ruled by a small, insular elite.

Edward Lemon, a Tajikistan expert at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, explains that the country’s economy is dominated by businessmen linked to the presidential family who use their control over government agencies to “skew the market in their favor.”

“This corruption … pervades every level of the society and the economy,” Lemon says.

Sakhibov — the owner of Faroz — is no exception.

“If Sakhibov wasn’t part of the system by being married into the [Rahmon] family, Faroz … would probably be targeted itself,” Lemon explains.

But he is part of the system. And this has allowed Sakhibov to lead Faroz to ever-greater heights. An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reveals that its growth was made possible, in large part, because the government created opportunities for it to flourish and ensured that none of its competitors would pose much of a threat. The state has been used for the good of the company, not the other way around.

Reporters reached out to Faroz, Sakhibov, and the presidential administration with requests for comment, but received no responses.

Source: occrp