On August 10, 2017, when the first reports that the Supreme Military Court (Tribunal) of Uzbekistan had sentenced former first deputy chairman of the country’s Security Service (SNB), Shukhrat Gulyamov, to life imprisonment and asked him to compensate the state for the amount of $1.5 billion, some observers doubted its authenticity. Indeed, General Gulyamov has been known to ignore orders coming even from Uzbekistan’s new president, Shavkhat Mirziyoyev. After being demoted by the newly elected president and sent to work at one of the oblast (provincial) security branches, Gulyamov defiantly stayed at his old position in the capital city and continued to work every day with no repercussions. This was just another indication of his powers and continuous support from the head of the SNB, Rustam Inoyatov.
Known as the “hero of Andijan” for his ruthless suppression of protests in Andijan in 2005, Gulyamov for a long time was considered the third most powerful actor in Uzbekistan behind the president and Inoyatov. In fact, according to unofficial reports, in 2016 he had been introduced to Vladimir Putin as a possible replacement for dying Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The meeting took place on August 30, 2016, at the Uzbekistan presidential residence, Kuksaroi, and was attended by Vladimir Putin, where he met with Russia Ambassador to Uzbekistan Vladimir Tyurdenev, Russian-Uzbek oligarch, Alisher Usmanov, Karimov’s administrative aid, Zelimkhan Khaidarov, prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and SNB chairman Rustem Inoyatov. Everyone present, with exception of Inoyatov, wanted Mirziyoyev as Karimov’s replacement and only Inoyatov supported his deputy, Shukhrat Gulyamov’s, candidacy. Supposedly, Putin said that none of the other Central Asian leaders wanted to work with Gulyamov, since “he, along with Western special services, is involved in Afghan drug trafficking to the EU”. Putin added that they feel “more conformable” working with Mirziyoyev and that allegedly sealed the issue. Islam Karimov died two days later and Shavkat Mirziyoyev was eventually declared his replacement.
According to some reports, in anticipation of a power struggle that might follow President Karimov’s succession, Gulyamov made several important moves. He allegedly transferred most of his assets abroad. According to the government case against him, former SNB officer Yuri Savinkov, now residing in Dubai, assisted Gulyamov in moving money to Western banks. In addition, the government claims that Savinkov was Gulyamov’s partner in unofficial arms trade. He also allegedly helped organize and finance assassination attempts against an Uzbek dissident residing in the West (unfortunately, the Uzbek government did not provide any further information).
Concerned about their safety, Gulyamov recently sent his wife and children to live in the United States. The choice of the US was easy to make since his brother, Bakhtiyor Gulyamov, at the time, was Uzbekistan’s ambassador there. It became known that he unofficially tried to present his brother, Shukhrat, to the American authorities as a possible Karimov successor. With his brother’s help, Shukhrat Gulyamov even tried to contact and seek support from Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen in Pensylvania. However, the Gulyamov brothers’ “American dreams” went sour, and both of them lost their jobs.
It took President Mirziyoyev almost 4 months before he decided to confront the all-powerful general. The confrontation happened On February 6, 2017, and it seemed like Mirziyoyev had taken a close look at Soviet history and particularly the scenario of Nikita Khrushchev removing Marshal Lavrenty Beria in 1953. One hundred special forces members individually selected by Mirziyoyev guarded an extraordinary meeting of the Security Council. They were given orders to protect the president and his staff from possible assault by SNB special squads loyal to Gulyamov and his boss, Rustam Inoyatov.
In his statement, the Uzbek president pointed out that Gulyamov ignored his orders and remained at the SNB headquarters in Tashkent despite being transferred to the oblast office in the Surkhadarya region. He also disobeyed a presidential order to start releasing all political prisoners kept in five maximum-security prisons, which were under the control of the state security apparatus. Then (according to the meeting participants’ accounts reported by independent media), President Mirziyoyev personally took away Shukhrat Gulyamov’s service ID and stripped him of the rank of general. He also asked Gulyamov to immediately leave the SNB premises. Mirziyoyev also criticized general Gulyamov’s superior (and the second most powerful man in Uzbekistan), Rustem Inoyatov, for not properly carrying on the duties of the head of the SNB and allowing Gulyamov to remain on his job. It is obvious that the new president is looking for an appropriate moment to get rid of Inoyatov and Gulyamov’s fall was just the first step.
After his subsequent arrest and during trial, Gulyamov refused to testify against Inoyatov and other top SNB officials charged with dissident assassinations, drug trafficking and other crimes. However, this changed after he was shown intercepts of his former boss’s conversations, where the head of the Uzbek security services were given order to kill Gulyamov, no matter where he is being held. According to the Uzbek independent media sources, Inoyatov asked for an immediate Gulyamov “liquidation”, since otherwise, in Inoyatov’s words, “he [Gulyamov] can betray all of us”. Apparently, after hearing the tapes, Gulyamov promised to tell everything that he knows about Inoyatov’s alleged crimes. It is also believed that, for his protection, Gulaymov is kept somewhere outside regular detention facilities.
Gulyamov’s Drug Empire
Drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Central Asia, and particularly through Uzbekistan, has been going on for a number of years. There were a number of reports that this could only be possible with local authorities’ cooperation. According to one of the high-ranking British diplomats in Afghanistan, Afghan heroin was transported to the border with Uzbekistan, which is largely controlled by ethnic Uzbek mafia on the Afghan side. From there, it was transferred to the armored SUVs operated by Karimov’s personal security service (SNB), taken to Kazakhstan and, through a largely unguarded border, to Russia. According to the Uzbek government, a wealthy Uzbek “businessman”, Gafur Rakhimov, controls heroin transfer to the EU.
It was during Gulyamov’s case that information came out about him heading this corrupt ring. Paradoxically, the leader of the criminal structure had been the second in command of the country’s security services, whose responsibilities included fighting drug trafficking. Gulyamov and his co-conspirator, the head of the Surkhadarya region’s SNB office, Nodir Ibraghimov, were the “Godfathers” of a large network of smugglers. If authorities are serious about rooting out this drug mafia, they would need to find out who the final buyers of the drugs were and what happened to all elements of this criminal infrastructure.
Traditionally, Uzbekistan’s elites are divided along regional lines, the most influential being the Tashkent and Samarkand clans. Former president Karimov represented a Tashkent clan and his closest allies include Rustam Inoyatov, the chief of the National Security Council (SNB), who was often referenced as a ‘gray cardinal.’ The Tashkent clan also included Rustam Azimov, the finance minister. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is part of the Samarkand clan, and it is clear that to consolidate the power, he needs to get rid of the Tashkent clan and appoint representatives of his own. With Rustam Azimov gone, now he only has to replace the SNB chief, Inoyatov. Shukhrat Gulyamov’s trial and conviction is just a step in that direction.