02/06/2024, 09.49
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The great round-up of 'street gangs' in Uzbekistan

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The counters of a vast anti-mafia operation that in recent months has also hit prominent figures with important links to the palaces of power in Tashkent and other neighbouring countries are still obscure. Among the best known figures is 70-year-old Salim Abduvaliev, until yesterday presented as 'a great entrepreneur and patron of the arts'.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) - Uzbekistan's law enforcement agencies have so far not clarified the details of the operations that led to mass arrests in recent months, and which were defined in the press as "raids against street gangs".

Even to Radio Ozodlik's requests, representatives of the Tashkent Interior Ministry responded that "all the necessary clarifications will be provided only at the end of the investigations", and not even the relatives and lawyers of the arrested people agreed to speak to the press.

Dozens of people are still detained, after what are also called the "40 days of fire" between November and December 2023; among them there are also prominent representatives of the Uzbek criminal world such as the 70-year-old Salim Abduvaliev, known throughout the post-Soviet world as "Salimbay" or "Rich Salim" and many others, who have so far tried to deny their membership to local mafias.

The street gang rallies prompted a joint operation by the ministry, security forces and the capital's administration, together with other bodies in Uzbekistan, to "improve the country's criminal situation." Also arrested together with Salimbaj were the "law thief" Bakhtijar Kudratullaev, known as Bakhti Tashkentskij, the "godfather of Tashkent", and Abbas Khadžaev, known as "the overseer" of the Uzbek capital.

During the raids, other emerging stars of the criminal world were also identified, such as Saidaziz Saydaliev, known as the "man of the crossroads", who was also arrested by the Tashkent police.

The first deputy police chief, Doniyor Taškhodžaev, informed the press that 38 charges of serious crimes have been filed for extortion, fraud, illegal possession of weapons and possession of explosives, possession and trade of narcotics and psychotropic substances, or simply of vandalism, for a total of 116 people.

The reasons that caused the raids remain unclear, and why they only took place now, given that several criminal figures had been known for some time. All the lawyers of the arrested people had to sign an agreement not to disclose the details of the investigation, and a similar declaration was apparently imposed on the inquisitors themselves, so much so that most of the staff of the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor's Office were in the dark about it. to ongoing operations.

The events of the "40 Days of Fire" actually aroused great interest in public opinion, having no analogues of this magnitude in previous times, hitting gangs that had dominated the scene since Soviet times. Several arrested criminals had long-standing relationships with people or groups linked to power circles in Uzbekistan and other states, going back to Russia. Abduvaliev, in particular, is known as a "great entrepreneur and patron", since January 2017 he held the position of vice-president of the national Olympic committee and led the sports wrestling association, and was a great supporter of the current president Šavkat Mirziyoyev, who in 2016 had awarded him as "best sports coach in Uzbekistan".

According to reports from various international services, “Salimbaj” conducted a “trade in state offices” and even diplomatic offices, representing the country abroad through his emissaries. Repeatedly investigated and questioned by journalists, he had always denied any illegal activity.

Now the place of his detention is also kept secret, and his arrest has also created a scandal in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he also had trusted men in the Žogorku Keneš, the Bishkek parliament, with plots dating back to president Sadyr Žaparov and the head of Kamčybek Tašiev Security Committee. Many more surprises are expected from the ongoing investigations, in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and perhaps in other countries as well.

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