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Mysterious Wealth. How Did the Wife of the Prime Minister of Tajikistan Become the Owner of Luxury Real Estate in Dubai?

On May 16, Radio Ozodi published an article that experts from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) as part of the Dubai Unlocked project found documents indicating that Ikbolkhon Nozirova (Ikhbolkhon Nazirova), the wife of Tajik Prime Minister Kokhir Rasulzoda, owned real estate in Dubai.

The day after the publication, on May 17, a letter signed by the “Secretariat of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan” signed by the “Secretariat of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan” was sent to Radio Ozodi by e-mail, apparently belonging to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan, which reads: “In response to the Radio Ozodi material dated May 16, 2024, which was published on social networks, we inform you that the information contained in this material about the villas, allegedly belonging to the wife of the Prime Minister of Tajikistan have no real grounds and do not correspond to reality.”

In response, Radio Ozodi sent a letter to this email with a request to provide confirmation that the mail belongs to the Secretariat of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan. Our request went unanswered, or perhaps we have not yet received a response. Meanwhile, on May 27, OCCRP published the full investigation on its website, which we are republishing with permission from the authors of the investigation.

The Prime Minister of Tajikistan and his wife Ikhbolkhon Nazirova (Ikbolkhon Nozirova) did not respond to investigators’ questions about how the latter was able to afford to purchase several luxury properties in her country and in the United Arab Emirates.

The source of income of the wife of the Prime Minister of Tajikistan is unknown, and her husband, as a high-ranking government official, is prohibited from engaging in commercial activities. However, Ikhbolkhon Nazirova (Ikbolkhon or Ikboloy Nozirova), owning several properties in Tajikistan, purchased real estate in Dubai worth about $1.4 million.

The source of the couple’s wealth, like that of many others in this authoritarian Central Asian country with no free media, remains a mystery. In a country in which President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for the past three decades, making every effort to protect his power and suppress the voices of critics and opponents of the government.

However, the investigative team of OCCRP and Azda TV in Europe got hold of data on foreigners’ real estate in Dubai. The materials became available as a result of a large-scale leak of real estate data in the UAE. Their experts found that Ikhbolkhon Nazirova (Ikbolkhon Nozirova) owns four apartments and a hotel in the Sughd region, a region that her husband Kokhir Rasulzoda ran from 2006 to 2013, as well as a house in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

And now, leaked property ownership data shows that Nazirova has also bought two villas in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. At the same time, there are no supporting documents that Nazirova ever held a high-paying position or owned a profitable company. Her husband, Kokhir Rasulzoda, has been a government official for 24 years, which means that Tajik law prohibits him from engaging in commercial activities.

Edward Lemon, head of the Oxus Society think tank in Washington, who specializes in Central Asia, links all these facts to the high level of corruption in Tajikistan. According to him, the post of prime minister in Tajikistan is purely symbolic and Rasulzoda receives a modest official salary in this position, and therefore the investigators’ data indicate that this married couple has good relations with the “kleptocratic” regime, and Rasulzoda uses his political position to accumulate personal wealth and support various business interests of his family.

Rasulzoda has held various government positions, but he does not seem to have had much personal ambition in Tajikistan’s deeply autocratic political system. Therefore, I think for this reason he was elected Prime Minister,” Edward Lemon said.

There is no evidence of the involvement of Rasulzoda or Nazirova in any money scams and corruption scandals. They themselves did not respond to requests from journalists for comment on the sources of their income and property.

Nazirova’s two villas in Dubai

From the Silk Road to the Persian Gulf

Nazirova’s Vatan Hotel in Khujand, the capital of Tajikistan’s Sughd Province, from where goods were shipped to Europe along the Silk Road centuries ago, rents out rooms to guests of the “northern capital.” Both on a short-term basis and on a long-term basis.

Khujand is now the second-largest city in the country, which the World Bank calls the poorest in Central Asia.

Founded about 2,500 years ago during the Persian Empire, Khujand is far from the high-end neighborhoods and skyscrapers that have grown up on the sands of Dubai over the past few decades.

According to documents discovered as part of the Dubai Unlocked project, it became known that the wife of the Tajik prime minister turned out to be the owner of two two-story villas in Dubai. Ikbolkhon Nozirova Villas are located 200 meters apart in MiraOasis III, a gated elite community where there is an amphitheater, a basketball court, a mosque, a dog park, swimming pools, a volleyball court, and landscaped paths.

The first 284-square-meter villa costs $737,700 and has several bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as a separate maid’s room. The second 270-square-meter villa costs $699,800 and also has several bedrooms. Apparently, both villas were purchased with the participation of the prime minister’s daughter, fashion designer Farangiz Azimova – she left her phone number as contact information when buying real estate.

Farangiz also owns a villa in Meadows, a gated community in central Dubai surrounded by an artificial lake. Documents show that in 2011, she purchased a two-story mansion worth more than $5.4 million when she was 24 years old.

Farangiz Azimova in Italy. Photo from Instagram

Farangiz has Russian citizenship, but apparently lives in Dubai, together with her husband, businessman Zafar Azimov, the son of former Tatarstan Prime Minister Yahyo Azimov. Asimov Jr. is the owner of a private company that invests in manufacturing, real estate and healthcare in Tajikistan, Russia and the United States.

Judging by Farangiz’s Instagram photos, the couple often travels and enjoys a luxurious lifestyle in different countries, including France, the UK, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

“The most incorruptible minister”

In the case of Farangiz Azimova, it can be assumed that she could afford such a luxurious property with the income from her husband’s business, but there is no information about her mother’s sources of income.

Ikhbolkhon Nazirova (Ikbolkhon Nozirova) is not registered in the Tax Committee of Tajikistan as an entrepreneur – and this is a prerequisite for running a small business in the country. According to the Unified Register of Legal Entities, which covers data up to 2018, it does not own a single company. In the past, Nazirova headed the Palace of Culture in Khujand, but there is no information on whether she worked in the private sector.

There is virtually no media coverage of Nazirova in Tajikistan, a state that Human Rights Watch has described as “a country where independent and critical voices are suppressed.” But the investigators still found something. In a 2015 complimentary article about his boss, Kokhir Rasulzoda’s former press secretary described his wife as “a modest caring housewife who is also distinguished by an irrepressible desire to create beauty.”

In an article that he republished online in 2020, he writes that Nazirova often accompanied her husband on his working trips as chairman of the region and recalled their trip to one of the cotton-growing districts of Sughd. “I didn’t think that the wife of the head of the region would come to pick cotton and surprise everyone with her collection,” the former employee quotes the words of the chairman of the dehkan farm of one of the districts of Sughd about Nazirova. “She picked cotton like a machine.”

Until 2000, Rasulzoda worked as a chief engineer, and then as the head of the Tajikirsovkhozstroy enterprise in Khujand. In 2000, he was appointed Minister of Land Reclamation and Water Resources of Tajikistan, thus entering big politics. He held this post until 2006. By the way, the former press secretary of the Hukumat of the Sughd region in the same article from 2015 called him “the most incorruptible Tajik minister.” In 2007, Rasulzoda was appointed chairman of the Sughd region, which he headed until November 23, 2013. Since 2013, he has been the Prime Minister of the country.

Source: Radio Liberty