The former Communist Party leader in the Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan was reported Wednesday to have been arrested on charges of corruption, along with the republic’s former president and two other top party officials, in a continuing campaign against widespread corruption there.
Oleg Gaidanov, Uzbekistan’s deputy state prosecutor, told the weekly newspaper Moscow News that a Mafia-like organization had resumed its activities despite the arrest of senior police officers and the continuing trial of several Interior Ministry officials on charges of accepting massive bribes to protect the criminals.
Already, the scandal has reached into the top ranks of the Soviet hierarchy. One former interior minister shot himself to death rather than face trial, and his deputy, the son-in-law of the late President Leonid I. Brezhnev, is among those being tried on corruption charges.
Inamzhon B. Usmankhodzhayev, the former party first secretary in Uzbekistan, was removed in January. Two years ago, the republic’s former president, Akil U. Salimov, was fired. And the other two officials newly arrested, regional party leaders in Bukhara and Samarkand, were removed from office earlier this month.
The officials allegedly reported inflated figures for the amount of cotton planted, harvested and sold to the state, collecting payments for cotton that was never grown, and diverted state funds allocated for the development of new fields, irrigation systems and warehouses. As a result of the fraud, the officials reaped billions of dollars.
Bribes Back and Forth
The scheme produced such vast amounts of money that corruption itself became the principal occupation of hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of Uzbeks, with bribes being passed back and forth and the cover-ups proliferating, according to investigators.
A key figure has been identified as Sharaf Rashidov, the Uzbek party leader for 25 years, a longtime political ally of Brezhnev who was discredited posthumously after President Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Rashidov’s successor, Usmankhodzhayev, was hailed as a reformer when he took over after Rashidov’s death in 1983, and some of the most obvious corruption was halted.
Gaidanov said the investigation into Uzbek corruption had been badly hampered, apparently by top-level officials protecting their supporters in the power structure.
“We are getting very serious interference with our work,” he told Moscow News.
“Absolutely impermissible things are happening in the republic’s courts,” he added, explaining that charges are dropped, testimony and other evidence are ignored, judgments are postponed, sentences deferred and court orders forged in many of the corruption cases that have been brought to court.
Crime bosses are again functioning on a broad scale and are operating on the evident belief that they still enjoy official protection from prosecution, Gaidanov said.
When Vitaly A. Korotich, editor of the avant-garde weekly magazine Ogonyok, told a special Communist Party conference in June that he had the names of four Uzbek delegates who were suspected of bribe-taking, he was challenged by conservatives, who said he was going too far with his magazine’s investigations and was undermining the party’s authority.
A brief probe was conducted by the conference’s Credentials Committee but without result.
However, other speakers at the conference suggested that conservatives such as Mikhail A. Solomentsev, then chairman of the party’s watchdog Control Commission, were blocking the investigation.