DUSHANBE (TCA) — As Tajikistan, the poorest among Central Asian post-Soviet republics, badly needs investments, including foreign ones, to develop its economy, we are republishing this article originally published by EurasiaNet.org:
Barely day passes at Tajikistan’s most troubled bank without some grim or bizarre news.
At the start of the week, Firdavs Berdiyev, the would-be fugitive deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s troubled Tojiksodirotbank, resurfaced to give interviews to local media about his whereabouts and plans.
As people close to Berdiyev told EurasiaNet.org last week, the banker has said he is on an international tour in search of potential investors to Tajikistan.
Speaking to Asia-Plus, Berdiyev said that he was in New York looking for people willing to put money into Tojiksodirotbank and its daughter company, the Development Bank of Tajikistan.
“It is indispensable that we attract cheap and long-term resources (i.e. funds) and to settle things with our account-holders. I and (Tojiksodirotbank part owner and former chairman) Tojidin Pirzoda have already been in Saudi Arabia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia. I myself was in Moscow for a week and met with bankers there. After that I flew to Europe and from there to New York, where I am holding talks with representatives of American banks,” Berdiyev said, adding that he planned to return to Dushanbe on August 25.
Berdiyev insisted that he was allowed to leave the country unimpeded and that he informed Tojiksodirotbank temporary administration of his plans.
These remarks are transparently addressed at constantly rumbling rumors that the authorities might at some stage initiate legal proceedings against the bank’s management over its chronic insolvency issues.
“This time my tour is taking 20-25 days. And we are only doing this because we want to use all possible chances to find investors and use our own resources to remain in charge of the bank rather than, say, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” Berdiyev said.
Back in May, Pirzoda revealed that his bank was in talks over a cash injection from the EBRD to be exchanged for a 50 percent equity stake.
But what is far from clear here is who is trying to advance these negotiations. The EBRD has adopted a go-slow approach to the bailout plan, while Tojiksodirotbank’s current owners are now clearly signaling their unhappiness at losing control over their own institution. Indeed, the impetus appears to be coming primarily from the National Bank.
Berdiyev told Asia-Plus that Tojiksodirotbank’s assets have been estimated by international assessors to be worth around $500 million. As Berdiyev explained things, it is not that bank is in trouble, but just that it has been busy investing in the lucrative growth areas.
“All banks fulfill the function of attracting deposits and then handing those funds out as credit. So the bank is not in a position at this current moment to return all deposits since these have been sent toward developing agriculture, building residential buildings and shops and gas stations and so on,” he said.
In an interview to TojNews, Berdiyev noted that state salaries, investment pots and other similar funds, Tojiksodirotbank hold less than 1 million somoni ($127 million at the current official rate) of the government’s money on its books. Some of that is money earmarked for work on the all-important Rogun hydropower plant.
By way of an example of the kind of things that Tojiksodirotbank is investing in, there is the Auchan supermarket, which was opened with some fanfare in June. The idea there was for the bank to profit directly from the retail site, but with the lender’s fate in the balance, who will be reaping the dividends? Tojiksodirotbank and its current shareholders, the EBRD, the government? Who knows.
There is evidently mischief at hand here, what with the news of Berdiyev’s reported escape from Tajikistan. People close to the banker worry that this may have been an early warning signal for Tojiksodirotbank’s current beneficiaries to step away from the bank or face prosecution. Of course, it is also possible that Berdiyev is truly in two minds whether to return to Dushanbe. All will be revealed on August 25.
One person subjected to literal pain from Tojiksodirotbank is the head of the lender’s security team, who has told media that he was beaten up the caretaker chairman Mirhayot Yokubov.
Abdulmumin Oyev, who intends to report Yokubov’s alleged attacks, attempted murder and slander to the security services no less, told Asia-Plus a story as peculiar as it is possible to imagine.
“[On August 8 after 5 p.m.] I came to his office on the second floor of our bank, where there were already nine people, six of whom were members of the temporary administration of Tojiksodirotbank, including Yokubov and three former bank employees. I didn’t know why they had called me. All the people there began to look at some wires and talk between themselves. The head of the temporary administration, Mirhayot Yokubov, came up to me and began to beat me and choke me — I almost died. Nobody there tried to stop him. They just watched me as he beat me. Mirhayot Yokubov accused me of supposedly installing a bug and even miniature videocameras in his office to listen in on him,” 63-year old Oyev explained from his hospital bed.
Oyev then went on to say that Yokubov’s bodyguard, Safar, took him into a men’s toilet and locked him inside. From there, Oyev claims to have called his son and pleaded for help, at which Safar opened the door and snatched away the telephone. The son, who happens by chance to have former been Mirhayot Yokubov’s teacher, did later turn up, however, bringing the whole charade to a close.
Oyev denies he installed any listening devices in Yokubov’s office.
Is this what the EBRD is proposing to buy into?