A lucrative plot of Tashkent land belonging to a major Uzbek steel plant has been sold to a company close to President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s son-in-law, at a fraction of its market value, documents showed.
The findings are the latest in a series of revelations about shady business deals that have plagued the privatization campaign by the Mirziyoev government, which has sought to modernize Uzbekistan’s economy and attract private investment.
The process has been troubled by persistent reports of sweetheart deals that have benefited government insiders and even relatives of Mirziyoev and his family.
In early February, the Agency for State Property, which is overseeing the entire privatization process, announced that a 6-hectare property in Tashkent belonging to the Uzmetkombinat steel mill had been sold to the Golden House Development group for 74 billion som ($6.9 million).
Uzmetkombinat is a major steel producer, one of the largest in Central Asia.
The buyer, Golden House Development, is controlled by Orient Group, which is owned and controlled by the younger brother of Mirziyoev’s son-in-law. The son-in-law, Otabek Umarov, married Mirziyoev’s daughter, Shahnoza, in 2007.
After Mirziyoev became Uzbekistan’s president in 2016, Orient Group started receiving significant amounts from the country's Sovereign Welfare Fund.
An earlier RFE/RL investigation found that between 2016 and 2020, Orient Group companies, businesses, and projects received about $161 million in funds from the Sovereign Welfare Fund through a company called Uzbek Oman Investment.
Officials close to the government told RFE/RL that the price for the Tashkent land was "ridiculously" low and the real valuation of the territory was more than 10 times that amount,
According to the officials, it was not clear what was the initial price offered at the tender, which was not transparent.
A representative of the Agency for State Assets defended the auction, telling RFE/RL it had been held in an open manner and none of the participants offered more than 74 billion som for the lot in question.
Separately, documents obtained by RFE/RL show that Uzmetkombinat's steel production has been sold to companies controlled by Bakhtiyor Fazylov, the de-facto owner of the steel mill itself and a tycoon close to Mirziyoev's inner circle.
According to the documents, instead of being sold through public commodity auctions, the mill’s steel products -- isolator pads used in construction projects and pipes for heating systems – have been sold at lower prices to Fazylov-controlled companies.
A company spokesman told RFE/RL that direct purchase contracts to Fazylov-controlled companies had ended in October, but the government is authorized to make exceptions.
“But I am not sure if any company is now given such a privilege”, he said.