Join our brand new verified AMN Telegram channel and get important news uncensored!

It’s great to be us! Nepotism runs deep within Uzbekistan’s powerful and wealthy ruling family

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoev (Presidential Press and Information Office/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

On election day, incumbent Shavkat Mirziyoev posed for a polling station photo opportunity with some of Uzbekistan’s most powerful movers and shakers — all of them members of his ruling family circle.

To his left stood eldest daughter Saida Mirziyoeva, the communications chief in the presidential administration, and her husband, Oybek Tursunov, one of the country’s most influential businessmen.

Between Tursunov and Mirziyoeva stood their 18-year-old son, named for Mirziyoev’s late father, Miromon, who during his lifetime worked as a physician in the family’s home district of Zomin in Jizzax Province.

To the strongman’s right was his own son, a teenage princeling called Miralisher, and his influential wife, Ziroatxon Xoshimova.

Flanking the first lady was Mirziyoev’s younger daughter, first deputy director of the National Agency for Social Security; Shaxnoza Mirziyoeva, and her husband, Otabek Umarov, the de facto head of Mirziyoev’s presidential security and a rapidly rising businessman in his own right.

In the years since the death of authoritarian leader Islam Karimov, who Mirziyoev served as prime minister for more than a decade 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 — known locally as Radio Ozodlik — shows, clan rule goes well beyond this group photo, with lesser-known relatives and in-laws of the president wielding serious heft in business and political circles.

And with the 65-year-old president securing a fresh seven-year term in an effectively uncontested vote on July 9, it would not be a surprise to soon see new names and faces added to the ones below.

A Special Sister

Shavkat Mirziyoev was only 9 years old when his mother died, and the task of raising him ultimately fell to his sister, Inobat, three years his senior.

Inobat Mirziyoeva’s limited public profile is that of a pious woman, completing as she did in 2013 the pilgrimage to Mecca along with Xoshimova and Saida Mirziyoeva. She typically appears in family photographs wearing traditional Islamic dress.

But this image belies a woman who is clearly one of the most powerful and influential members of the first family outside of the election-day photo.

Mirziyoeva has three children from her first marriage, as well as stepchildren from her marriage to Toraboy Yarlakapov, known in the Mirziyoev family’s native Jizzax Province as the “King Of Gas Stations” due to his dominance of the local fuel business.

The eldest daughter of Mirziyoev’s eldest sister, Gulnoza Omonova, serves as the director of the No. 324 kindergarten in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent.

While this might sound like a relatively humble calling, No. 324 is no ordinary kindergarten.

It is the leading children’s institution in the Uzbek capital, benefitting from refurbishment and equipment supplied by a South Korean university and a company from the same country.

Logically, No. 324 became a showpiece for the preschool policies of Omonova’s cousin, Shakhnoza Mirziyoeva, when Mirziyoeva was heading up a department at the Preschool Education Ministry.

The younger Mirziyoev daughter left that position in June for her new role, which involves far-reaching powers over the country’s welfare sector.

A more obvious cash cow for Omonova, according to Uzbek corporate records, is the IKEA-like English Home store in Tashkent, which sells furnishings and accessories at prices beyond the reach of most Uzbeks.

Omonova seemingly leaves more serious business to her husband, Najim Abdujabbarov, whose role as a major player in logistics and trade at Tashkent’s contraband-rich Abu Sahiy Market was uncovered by an Uzbek Service investigative report in April.

Her younger sister, Yulduz Omonova, has a more visible entrepreneurial streak.

She is a player in Uzbekistan’s cartel-like car market, owning since 2018 the Truck And Bus Trade Group and Turon Avto, companies with a license to sell various car models as well as heavier vehicles in a market well insulated from imports.

And she doesn’t need to worry too much about supplying her dealership.

Omonova’s husband, Sardor Maxmudjonov, has a plum management job at the state-owned monopolist auto manufacturer UzAuto Motors, which grants licenses to autosalons like hers.

But Omonova’s father-in-law, Oktam Maxmudjonov, is almost certainly wealthier than both of them.

A longtime associate of the president, Maxmudjonov is the chairman and owner of Jizzax’s leading football club, Sogdiana, as well as a board member and adviser to the chairman at BMB Trade Group.

This conglomerate was founded only four months after Mirziyoev became president and has expanded rapidly into sectors like agribusiness, construction, and waste management, encompassing more than 20 projects worth more than $1 billion and acquiring thousands of hectares of fertile land in the Jizzax and Sirdaryo provinces, government documents show.

Inobat Mirziyoeva is just the most impressive of the four presidential siblings.

Mirziyoev has two other sisters and one brother whose in-laws own businesses in some of the most strategic sectors of the economy, like construction and natural gas, all of which are covered in Ozodlik’s hourlong video report.

Then there are the president’s relatives on his mother’s side, who would require their own separate round up, even if the paternal line is traditionally more privileged in Uzbek families.

But even for presidential relatives in corruption-prone Uzbekistan, the smooth and efficient accumulation of wealth requires some political cover, and not just from an all-powerful president.

The son-in-law of the president’s younger sister, Matluba Mirziyoeva, is one such example of this trend.

Alisher Imomnazarov, husband of Matluba’s daughter, Moxiraxon, took charge of a department overseeing the work of the prosecutor-general’s investigators soon after Mirziyoev came to power.

This role essentially gives him the ability to interfere in any investigation that might have been launched by the organ.

In a similar vein, one of Inobat’s in-laws via her youngest daughter, Umida, heads the Tashkent section of the Agency for the Management of State Assets.

Axad Razzoqov’s role in this office is particularly relevant, given that money-spinning bazaars where the first family is deeply invested like Abu Sahiy and Oloy nominally belong to the state.

But an even more valuable asset in government for the president’s elder sister might be Jamshid Kuchkarov, the deputy prime minister who oversees Uzbekistan’s economic and financial sectors.

The Uzbek Service’s sources said that one of Inobat Mirziyoeva’s granddaughters is now married to Jamshid Kuchkarov’s son, a development that one source said had turned Kuchkarov into a “super minister” who is effectively untouchable.

The Qoqon Connection

Mirziyoev’s wife, Ziroatxon Xoshimova, is set apart from many a first lady in Central Asia in that she regularly appears in public and on trips with Mirziyoev.

According to multiple sources who spoke to the Uzbek Service, Xoshimova enjoys leverage over appointments across government, with the Health Ministry and pharmaceutical sector something of a stomping ground for the 65-year-old.

This view is partly supported by another Uzbek Service investigation in 2020, which highlighted how the first lady’s charity was involved in sourcing and importing oxygen concentrators from China during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Xoshimova has proved an asset to the ruling family in another way, deepening its roots in the densely populated and socially conservative Ferghana Valley region from which she hails.

Xoshimova is even believed to have played an influential role in younger daughter Shahnoza’s choice of Umarov — a fellow native of the city of Qoqon — as a husband in 2007.

And after being hidden from the public eye during the Karimov period, the respective families of both of these ruling family figures are now flourishing unashamedly.

Xoshimova’s family was a respectable one in political terms even during Soviet times, and Mirziyoev, whose paternal grandfather was born in a village located inside modern-day Tajikistan, was considered to have “married up.”

It is also via his Ferghana in-laws — specifically Xoshimova’s niece, Diora — that he became related by marriage to the Russian oligarch of Uzbek descent, Alisher Usmanov, in 2009.

Usmanov’s nephew Bobur Usmanov and Diora Usmanova enjoyed a highly glitzy lifestyle in Russia prior to Bobur’s death in a car crash in 2013.

But Usmanov family money was not particularly welcome in Uzbekistan under Karimov, an autocrat habitually suspicious of oligarchs.

In the Mirziyoev era, the now remarried Diora has thrown off the shackles, opening restaurants, beauty salons, and luxurious fashion houses in Tashkent.

The Instagram account of one of these fashion houses — Saadiatelier, which began its life in Russia — shows that her aunt, who is the first lady, and her cousin, Saida Mirziyoeva, are among the models for her wares.

Another of Xoshimova’s relatives to find his inner entrepreneur after her husband stepped up to the top job is her only brother, Muhammad Xoshimov.

The Uzbek Service’s examination of public records found that Xoshimov had acquired stakes in at least nine major industrial assets in the last four years.

One of his ownership interests is in the Romitex textile factory in Bukhara Province.

The facility is among the largest of its kind in the country, benefiting from cheap credit and several other privileges.

The Umarov family is newer to the game but is catching up as fast as their 39-year-old figurehead likes to drive his cars.

In an investigation published earlier this year, the Uzbek Service reported on Umarov’s emergence as one of Uzbekistan’s most important underground traders, and several relatives of Shaxnoza Mirziyoeva’s husband are assisting him in this line of work.

There are, however, more visible areas of the economy where their heft is growing, too.

One of his uncles, Maksud Umarov, is the head of sales at the Qo’qon Biokimyo alcohol distillery in Qoqon, although sources told Ozodlik that he effectively controls it.

That is likely to remain the case, despite the facility being privatized in January for a fee of $24.5 million by a company called First Premium Alliance.

But it is the remarkable trajectory of a company ultimately controlled by Umarov’s cousin, Sherzod Umarov, that truly speaks to this side of the ruling family’s growth.

Founded in 2018 in the wake of the post-Karimov Uzbek tourism boom, Asialuxe Travel is officially registered under the name of Davron Axmedov.

But Sherzod Umarov does not do much to hide his association with the company, and proven by the “happy to pose for brand-boosting” photos with Axmedov that he posts to his Instagram account.

Moreover, only a first family travel company could enjoy the kind of market position that Asialuxe Travel enjoys, accounting for the lion’s share of local and international tours and international flight sales.

In 2021, Asialuxe Travel was awarded the status as a National Tour Operator, effectively acknowledging its role as the face of Uzbek tourism, which sees it benefit from the patronage of the state airline Uzbekistan Airways as well as the transport and tourism ministries.

An especially important new source of growth for the company has been a de facto monopoly over the hajj and “umrah” pilgrimage programs, with President Mirziyoev striking an agreement last year with Saudi Arabia to double the quota for the hajj for Uzbekistan to 24,000 pilgrims and to 100,000 for the umrah.

In a populist move, Mirziyoev last year ordered local governments to finance and prioritize umrah pilgrimages for low-income citizens, meaning state assistance for Asialuxe — as well as the poor and needy.

Time For The Tursunovs

While he rarely cracks a smile while in the company of his wife and other in-laws, Oybek Tursunov has every reason to be happy with his lot in life.

By several estimations he is Uzbekistan’s most prominent businessman, even if not its richest, now that U.S.-sanctioned Alisher Usmanov — a reputed business partner and patron of Tursunov — has reentered the market of his home country.

During the Karimov period the Tursunovs were prominent in politics, but even with his father-in-law serving as Karimov’s prime minister things weren’t always easy.

After the bloody crackdown on protesters in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan in 2005, Tursunov’s father, Botir Tursunov, lost power inside the Interior Ministry, where he had headed the Counterterrorism Department before taking charge of the country’s National Central Bureau.

Oybek appeared to struggle to find his own place in government and, according to Uzbek Service sources, was sent by Mirziyoev to Moscow, where he represented the state rail company — possibly after falling foul of a powerful criminal group in Tashkent.

But he returned in 2017 to fight for his place in what Mirziyoev would call New Uzbekistan and found all doors open to him as the new president won his power struggles to become the republic’s undisputed leader.

Since then, he has founded at least nine companies while reportedly controlling swathes of valuable real estate in Tashkent and elsewhere. These days, he is perhaps most often associated with the UZCARD payment system, a bedrock of the nation’s finances.

At the same time, Botir Tursunov has had his dignity restored — and then some.

After the feared National Security Service was overhauled as part of Mirziyoev’s reforms, Tursunov served as the deputy head of the new look National Guard that the president tapped to take on many of its functions.

In 2020, Tursunov took up an equivalent role in the NSS’s successor, the State Security Service.

Oybek Tursunov’s brother, Ulugbek, also has a powerful position now, as first deputy chief of the Tashkent police.

In both cases, it is widely thought that the word “deputy” is a misnomer and that the two Tursunovs are at minimum the equal of their nominal bosses.

But to quote an oft-used phrase in former Soviet countries where Russian is still in use, “Business loves quiet.”

That is certainly the case in Uzbekistan, where it is so closely entwined with politics.

Within hours of the publication of the RFE/RL Uzbek Service’s investigation on July 8, the video was taken down by YouTube due to seemingly unjustified copyright claims.

The disputed footage was sourced from the President’s Office’s official YouTube account, which RFE/RL considered usable since it belongs to a public figure and is funded by taxpayer money.

The Uzbek Service had also followed YouTube’s fair-use policies strictly — the images used were important to the reporting and analysis of Mirziyoev’s policies.

The private Canada-based Agency of Internet rights later removed the claim, describing it as “an error.” The reinstated video currently has more than 1.7 million views.

In the meantime, several Telegram channels and social-media accounts under state security control are spreading videos that accuse the Uzbek Service of conspiring against the state and advocating for LGBT communities in Uzbekistan, where homosexuality remains illegal.

On July 9, during the live video coverage of the presidential election by the Uzbek Service, hundreds of trolls launched attacks against the service on various social-media platforms.

On July 10, a police officer visited the home of a blogger, Sirojiddin Muhammad, in Andijan, and in the presence of Muhammad’s parents, demanded that he remove his comment on Facebook regarding the Uzbek Service’s investigation. Muhammad complied with the request.

In response to the government-backed campaign to discredit and further censor RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, which is not permanently accredited in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL issued the following statement by its acting president, Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin.

“Rather than engage with honest reporting, Uzbek authorities are retaliating against our journalists with a malicious intimidation campaign and increased censorship. Our history has shown that when our audiences want trusted information, they will seek it out, often in greater numbers than before.”