A prominent businessman — freshly released from prison — has made an extraordinary claim at a posh hotel press conference about an alleged coup plot in the Uzbek capital some eight years ago, while also making sure to heap praise on the country’s current president.
“In 2011, 2012, a group of generals plotted to overthrow then-President Islam Karimov and assassinate then-Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev,” said Ahmed Aliev, the founder of the Gold Center jewelry company, at Tashkent’s upmarket Le Grand Plaza hotel.
Aliev, 53, went on to say that the country’s security chief at the time, General Shuhrat Ghulomov, was “personally” involved in the plot.
Ghulomov was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017, but charges against him have not been made public in the authoritarian Central Asian country.
Aliev didn’t provide further details of the alleged coup or people behind it, but said he had reported it to authorities.
There was no immediate reaction from Uzbek officials to the businessman’s hitherto unheard of allegations.
Aliev, who was released from prison in September, said the main reason for his imprisonment was that he had “found out about the plot.”
“They also wanted to take over my Gold Center company, but it was a secondary reason behind my arrest,” Aliev told reporters on October 21.
Aliev, an ethnic Azeri, founded his successful jewelry company when he was in his 20s. The wealthy businessman, his wife, and nine of his employees were arrested in 2012.
In 2013, a court in Tashkent sentenced Aliev to 20 years in prison for organizing a criminal group, a charge he denies.
The nine employees were also sentenced to various prison terms, while Aliev’s wife was given a suspended sentence.
Aliev also said that, while serving his sentence in 2014 in the notorious Jaslyk prison, he “managed” to pass off certain documents proving the alleged plot to the authorities, including Mirziyoev.
Human rights activists in 2017 reported that Aliev had complained of mistreatment while in prison.
Aliev’s case was reviewed in September 2019 by a Tashkent court, which cleared him of the charges and freed him.
What is interesting, however, is that an unusual press conference held at a prominent, expensive venue in downtown Tashkent wouldn’t be able to take place without the knowledge of the authorities who — despite some reforms — still strictly control the media and any such assemblies.
Tashkent-based journalist Aleksei Volosevich, who attended the press conference, told RFE/RL that the government would actually approve of such an event.
“Aliev made it clear that for the rest of his life he will be grateful to Mirziyoev for freeing him from Jaslyk prison,” he said. “During the press conference he praised Mirziyoev. Such accolades certainly won’t harm Mirziyoev.”
Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of authoritarian predecessor Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan since 1989 and brutally suppressed any dissent.
Mirziyoev — who served loyally as Karimov’s prime minister from 2003 to 2016 — has been praised for improving the country’s ties with fellow Central Asian states, releasing several political prisoners, and removing thousands of people from so-called blacklists of Islamic extremists.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by Shukhrat Bobojon of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service