Tajikistan: Talco Attacks Journalist

You might recall an article from a while back about how the government of Tajikistan was forming a unit to deal with that country's image problem, because, god knows, that's the country's biggest problem these days. Well, for the first time, there's something to show for that unit.

If you've been reading Beyond the River over the last few months, then the name John Helmer should be familiar to you. Helmer is a journalist based in Moscow working as a correspondent for South Africa's Business Week, The Weekender, and Mineweb, writing about the mineral and metals industries.

At some point, Helmer picked up on the story of Talco, Tajikistan's state-owned aluminum company. It's a story that's had a lot of twists and turns, so I won't rehash all the details again here. Suffice it to say that the Tajik government is suing former partners in Talco in a London court, and spending gigantic sums of money on legal fees which add up to a big chunk of the country's GDP.

Simultaneous with this court case is the affair of Hassan Sadulloev/Asadulloev, President Rahmon's brother-in-law. By many accounts, President Rahmon's son Rustam shot Sadulloev dead in May. Other accounts say that he's still alive and flying around in helicopters. Or maybe it's his twin brother, Hussein.

These two things are connected why? Because Sadulloev ran the bank (Orionbonk) that ran a scheme to divert Talco's income into offshore bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands. Accounts which belong to unnamed private persons. The only reason we know any of this is because Rahmon foolishly sued his former partners in the scheme in a London court. So it's pretty easy just to go down to the court and request the documents.

Add to this the IMF, which is getting less and less patient with Tajikistan. Last March it was revealed that the Tajik government would have to pay back $47 million in poverty-reduction loans to the IMF because Tajikistan had lied on the application. And most recently, the IMF issued a report saying that Tajikistan had to make the operation of Talco more transparent (and in the process revealed the scope of the illegal scheme to put profits in offshore accounts: a billion dollars).

You knew it had to happen eventually. Talco, or the Tajik government, or a reporter named Almaz Nazarov, has responded [ru].

You might think that the article would respond to the allegations and quote government and Talco sources saying that there's nothing to the story's allegations of corruption and that the Tajik government will cooperate with the IMF.

Instead, the story's author focuses on attacking John Helmer personally:

All the Helmer articles, basically, are connected with the court lawsuits of TALCO (as is known, the Tajik company pursues for a second year in the international courts the former traders of the factory – the Ansol Ltd company and the Russian UC Rusal). The chain links to these companies. They more than anyone else are interested in the deterioration of Talco’s foreign image TALCO and the creations of a negative image of the company in western business circles.

Continuing our small investigation and browsing on the Helmer site, we find out that on the same level with TALCO it ruthlessly “floods” also Russian Rusal.

Now by a simple process of elimination it is possible to identify the number-one candidate among customers for the Helmer service such as “support of judicial lawsuits” — Ansol Ltd. and its head Avaz Nazarov.

Oh, of course, Helmer must be in the pay of Ansol (the target of the Talco suit in London). And of course, Almaz Nazarov is an independent Tajik journalist whom no government is paying.

The article, which you can read yourself, basically whines that Helmer twisted the publicly available words of Rahmon and the IMF, didn't allow Talco to comment (although every article by Helmer includes a line about how his calls to the company have not been returned), and that actually the “tolling” practice that Talco has used is standard industry practice.

It ends with this bizarre coda:

P.S. The publication FK-Capital has made an inquiry on Monday [September 15] at the IMF Representation in the Republic of Tajikistan, concerning the Helmer article. However, an answer has not been received. Mr. Moers has written the comment to the address of Talco, which has been readdressed to us at our request by the company’s press-service. We consider the fact of the refusal of the IMF to answer our questions an indirect recognition of the fault in the distortion by the Mineweb journalist of their data and as consequence, the deterioration of image of Tajikistan. It is obvious that the founders of reports in the IMF should weigh more carefully their definitions and terms which, in consequence, were not required for further explanations or refutations.

Ha! The IMF is refusing to answer Almaz Nazarov's questions, just like Talco refuses to return Helmer's calls. The circle is unbroken.

Cross-posted at Beyond the River.

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