President Shavkat Mirziyoyev secured another seven years in power in a staged election on July 9. An investigative report from RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reveals how some of his lesser-known relatives and those of his wife got a taste for power and prosperity during his reign in Uzbekistan.
On election day, incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev posed for a photo at a polling station with some of Uzbekistan’s most powerful figures. All of them are members of his family circle.
To his left is his eldest daughter Saida Mirziyoyev, head of the communications sector of the Presidential Administration, and her husband Oybek Tursunov, one of the most influential businessmen in the country.
Standing between Tursunov and Mirziyoeva is their 18-year-old son, named after Mirziyoyev’s late father, Miromon, who during his lifetime worked as a doctor in the Zaamin district of the Jizzakh region.
On the right hand of the president are his influential wife Ziroathon Khoshimova and teenage son Miralisher.
Next to the first lady is the youngest daughter Shakhnoz Mirziyoyev, first deputy director of the National Social Security Agency, and her husband Otabek Umarov, the de facto head of the presidential security service and an independent fast-growing businessman.
In the years since the death of authoritarian leader Islam Karimov, under whom Mirziyoyev served for more than a decade as prime minister before succeeding him as president in 2016, Uzbeks have come to know these faces well.
But as a recent investigation by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service shows, clan rule goes far beyond this group photo: the president’s and his wife’s lesser-known relatives wield serious business and political influence.
Considering that the 65-year-old president received a new seven-year term as a result of a virtually uncontested election on July 9, it is not surprising that new names and faces will soon be added to the names and faces below.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s mother died when he was only nine years old. The task of raising him fell on his sister Inobat, who is three years older.
Inobat Mirziyoyeva’s public profile is very limited – she is just a devout woman who made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2013 with Ziroathon Khoshimova and Saida Mirziyoyeva. She usually appears in family photos in traditional Islamic dress.
However, this image does not really fit with the fact that Inobat Mirziyoyeva is one of the most powerful and influential members of the first family, except for those whom we saw in the photo on election day.
Mirziyoyeva has three children from her first marriage, as well as stepchildren from her marriage to Toraboy Yarlakapov, who is known in the Mirziyoyev family’s native Jizzakh region as the “King of Petrol Stations” due to his dominance in the local fuel business.
The eldest daughter of Mirziyoyev’s older sister, Gulnoza Omonova, works as the director of kindergarten No. 324 in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent. It may seem like a relatively humble calling, but Kindergarten 324 is no ordinary preschool.
This is the leading children’s institution in the capital of Uzbekistan, which was renovated and equipped by a university and a company from South Korea.
Logically, Garden No. 324 became a showcase for Shakhnoza Mirziyoyeva’s preschool policy when she headed a department at the Ministry of Preschool Education.
Mirziyoyev’s youngest daughter stepped down in June for a new role with broad powers over the country’s social welfare.
Gulnoza Omonova’s more obvious source of income, according to Uzbek corporate documents, is the IKEA-like English Home store in Tashkent, which sells furniture and accessories at prices that most Uzbeks can’t afford.
Omonova appears to trust her husband, Nadjim Abdujabbarov, to handle the big business, whose role as a major player in logistics and trade in the smuggling-rich Abu Sahiy market in Tashkent was uncovered in an Uzbek Newsroom investigation in April.
Omonova’s younger sister, Yulduz, has a more entrepreneurial streak. She occupied a niche in the automotive market, firmly isolated from imports. Since 2018, Yulduz Omonova owns Truck And Bus Trade Group and Turon Avto, which have received a license to sell various car models, as well as heavy vehicles.
And she doesn’t have to worry too much about stocking her dealership.
Omonova’s husband, Sardor Makhmudjonov, holds a senior position at UzAuto Motors, the state-owned car monopoly that licenses car dealerships like hers.
But Omonova’s father-in-law, Uktam Mahmudjonov, is almost certainly richer than both of them.
A longtime associate of the president, Mahmudjonov is the chairman and owner of Jizzakh’s leading football club, Sogdiana, and a member of the board of directors and advisor to the chairman of BMB Trade Group.
The conglomerate was founded just four months after Mirziyoyev became president and quickly expanded into sectors such as agriculture, construction and waste management, spanning more than 20 projects worth more than a billion dollars and acquiring thousands of hectares of fertile land in the Jizzakh and Syrdarya regions, government documents show.
Inobat Mirziyoyeva is simply the most impressive of the four presidential siblings.
Mirziyoyev has two sisters and one brother, whose relatives own companies in strategically important sectors of the economy, such as construction and the gas sector. All their activities are covered in an hour-long video report by the Uzbek edition of RFE/RL.
In addition, there are relatives of the President on the maternal side, for whom a separate investigation would be required, despite the fact that in Uzbek families the paternal line is traditionally considered more privileged.
But even for the president’s relatives in thoroughly corrupt Uzbekistan, the smooth and efficient accumulation of wealth requires some political cover, and not just from an all-powerful president.
One example of such a cover is the son-in-law of the President’s younger sister, Matluba Mirziyoyeva.
Alisher Imomnazarov, the husband of Matluba’s daughter, Mohirakhon, soon after Mirziyoyev came to power, headed the department in charge of the work of investigators of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
This position, in fact, gives him the opportunity to intervene in any investigation that may be initiated by this body.
One of Inobat’s relatives heads the Tashkent branch of the State Assets Management Agency. Ahad Razzokov’s role in this administration is especially relevant, given that the hugely profitable bazaars in which the first family invests heavily, such as Abu Sahiy and Oloy, are nominally owned by the state.
But an even more valuable asset in the government for the president’s older sister may be Jamshid Kuchkarov, the deputy prime minister in charge of Uzbekistan’s economic and financial sectors.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek sources said one of Inobat Mirziyoyeva’s granddaughters is now married to Jamshid Kuchkarov’s son, which, according to one source, has turned Kuchkarov into a “super minister,” effectively untouchable.
WITH ELIMATE WITH KOKAND
Mirziyoyev’s wife, Ziroathon Khoshimova, stands out among many of the first ladies of Central Asia in that she regularly appears in public and on official trips with Mirziyoyev.
Khoshimova, 65, enjoys leverage in government appointments, with the health ministry and the pharmaceutical sector as a kind of monopoly space, according to multiple sources interviewed by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.
This view is partly supported by another RFE/RL investigation conducted in 2020. It showed how the first lady’s charity was involved in purchasing and importing oxygen concentrators from China during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Khoshimova proved valuable to the ruling family in another way as well – the first lady has solidified her roots in the densely populated and socially conservative Ferghana Valley, where she hails from.
It is believed that Khoshimova even played an important role in choosing a husband for her youngest daughter: in 2007, Shakhnoza married a native of Kokand Umarov.
During the Karimov period, the relatives of the now ruling couple were hidden from the public eye, but now they are shamelessly prospering.
Khoshimova’s family was politically respectable even in Soviet times, so Mirziyoyev, whose paternal grandfather was born in a village in present-day Tajikistan, was considered a “successfully married”.
It was through his Ferghana relatives on his wife’s side, in particular Khoshimova’s niece Diora, that Mirziyoyev became related to the Russian oligarch of Uzbek origin Alisher Usmanov in 2009.
Usmanov’s nephew Bobur Usmanov and Diora Usmanova lived a luxurious lifestyle in Russia until Bobur’s death in a car accident in 2013.
But the money of the Usmanov family was not particularly welcome in Uzbekistan under Karimov, as the authoritarian leader was suspicious of the oligarchs.
During the Mirziyoyev era, the remarried Diora threw off her shackles by opening restaurants, beauty salons and luxury fashion houses in Tashkent.
In the Instagram account of one of these fashion houses Saadiatelier, which is based in Russia, among the models you can see Diora’s aunt, the first lady of Uzbekistan, and her cousin Saida Mirziyoeva.
Another of Ziroathon’s relatives, who discovered his entrepreneurial abilities after Khoshimova’s husband took the highest position, is her only brother Muhammad Khoshimov.
A study of public documents showed that Khoshimov has acquired stakes in at least nine large industrial assets over the past four years.
One of his possessions is the Romitex factory in the Bukhara region. It is one of the largest textile enterprises in the country, it profits from a low loan rate and enjoys a number of other privileges.
The Umarovs are new to the big game, but are already catching up with seasoned players as fast as Mirziyoyev’s 39-year-old son-in-law races his cars.
In an investigation published earlier this year, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service wrote that Umarov has become one of Uzbekistan’s biggest underground traders and several relatives of Shakhnoza Mirziyoyeva’s husband are assisting him in this work.
But there are more visible sectors of the economy, where their weight is also growing.
One of his uncles, Maksud Umarov, is the head of the sales department of the Kokand biohim (Kukon biohimyo) distillery. Sources say he actually has full control of the plant.
His position is likely to remain, despite the property being privatized in January for $24.5 million by a company called First Premium Alliance.
But it is precisely the impressive growth trajectory of the tourism company, whose ultimate beneficiary is Umarov’s cousin Sherzod Umarov, that speaks to this side of the ruling family’s growing influence.
Founded in 2018 during the tourism boom after Karimov’s death, Asia Luxe Travel is officially registered in the name of Davron Akhmedov. However, Sherzod Umarov does not hide much about his connection with the company, as evidenced by the photos on his personal Instagram account, in which he “poses with pleasure to promote the brand” with Akhmedov.
Such a significant position in the market, which Asia Luxe Travel has, could only be occupied by a travel company owned by the ruling family. This travel agency accounts for the lion’s share of local and international tours and international flight sales.
In 2021, Asia Luxe Travel received the status of a national tour operator, effectively recognizing its role as the face of Uzbek tourism, patronized by the state airline Uzbekistan Airways, as well as the ministries of transport and tourism.
A particularly important new source of growth for the company has been its virtual monopoly on hajj and umrah programs: last year, President Mirziyoyev struck an agreement with Saudi Arabia to double the quota for Uzbek residents to 24,000 for the hajj and 100,000 for the umrah.
Last year, Mirziyoyev, in a populist move, ordered local governments to fund and prioritize pilgrimages for low-income citizens as well as the poor and needy, enabling Asia Luxe to receive government assistance.
IN THE TIME OF THE TURSUNOVS
Oybek Tursunov rarely smiles in the company of his wife and other relatives, but he has every reason to be satisfied with his fate.
According to some estimates, Tursunov is the most famous businessman in Uzbekistan. Even if not the richest, since Alisher Usmanov, a well-known business partner and patron of Tursunov, who is under US sanctions, has returned to the market of his country.
During Karimov’s rule, the Tursunovs were prominent in politics, but even with Oybek’s father-in-law being Karimov’s prime minister, things were not always easy for the family.
After a bloody crackdown on a demonstration in the city of Andijan in the Fergana Valley in 2005, Tursunov’s father, Batyr Tursunov, lost influence in the Interior Ministry, where he headed the counterterrorism department. Then he was appointed to the post of head of the National Central Bureau of Interpol.
Oybek appeared to be struggling to find his place in government and, according to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, was sent by Mirziyoyev to Moscow, where he represented the state-owned railway company, possibly after crossing the path of a powerful criminal gang in Tashkent.
In 2017, he returned to fight for his seat in Mirziyoyev’s “New Uzbekistan” and found all doors open for him as the new president won the power struggle and emerged as the undisputed leader.
Since then, Tursunov has founded at least nine companies, taking control of valuable real estate in Tashkent and elsewhere. These days, it is perhaps most often associated with the UZCARD payment system, the backbone of the country’s finances.
His father restored the position. After the fearsome National Security Service was reorganized as part of Mirziyoyev’s reforms, Batyr Tursunov became deputy chief of the new National Guard, which the president gave many functions.
In 2020, Tursunov took a similar position in the SNB’s successor, the State Security Service.
Oybek Tursunov’s brother, Ulugbek, also holds an influential position today, serving as the first deputy chief of the Tashkent police.
It is widely believed that the term “deputy” in both cases is incorrect – the Tursunovs are at least equal to their nominal superiors.
But, as they say, business loves silence.
In Uzbekistan, business is so closely intertwined with politics.
Only a few hours after the publication of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service investigation, the video was taken down by YouTube on July 8 due to unsubstantiated claims of copyright infringement.
The controversial footage was taken from the official YouTube account of the president’s office, which RFE/RL deemed usable because it is owned by a public figure and funded with taxpayer money.
The Uzbek newsroom also strictly followed YouTube’s fair use policy – the images used were important in highlighting and analyzing Mirziyoyev’s policies.
The Canadian private agency Agency of Internet rights later dropped the claim, calling it a “mistake”. The restored video has now been viewed more than 1.7 million times.
Meanwhile, several telegram channels and social media accounts controlled by state security services are distributing videos accusing RFE/RL’s Uzbek office of plotting against the state and propagating LGBT people in a country where homosexual relationships face criminal penalties.
On July 9, during a live video broadcast of the presidential elections by RFE/RL’s Uzbek office, hundreds of trolls attacked her accounts on various social networks.
On July 10, a police officer visited blogger Sirojiddin Muhammad’s home in Andijan and, in the presence of Muhammad’s parents, demanded that he delete his Facebook comment regarding the Uzbek edition’s investigation. Muhammad fulfilled this requirement.
In response to a government-backed campaign to discredit and further censor RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, which has no permanent accreditation in Uzbekistan, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporation, of which RFE/RL is a part, released a statement from Acting President Jeffrey Gedmin.
“Uzbek authorities are taking revenge on our journalists with a malicious campaign of intimidation and increased censorship instead of dealing with true news. Our history shows that when our audience needs reliable information, they are certainly looking for it, and often in greater numbers than ever before,” says Gedmin.