Who are the secret ‘Scottish investors’ in tyrannical Uzbekistan?
LAST year one of the world’s most corrupt and least democratic countries announced substantial “foreign investment” from Scotland.
Uzbekistan authorities, in a series of stock exchange bulletins, said two businesses based in Edinburgh had taken important equity stakes in a series of cottonseed oil mills.
This, from our perspective, does not sound like big news. But it should be.
Uzbekistan’s cotton industry has been widely criticised for mass human rights abuses. Over a million people a year are forced to work its fields, according to Amnesty International. As a result the country ranked second highest in the World Slavery Index.
So any Scottish investment in the industry would be potentially open to scrutiny, particularly as the equity stakes were being sold by the Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government under a partial privatisation scheme. However, Uzbek state-controlled media, which was ranked among the least free in the world this year by press freedom organisation, Reporters without Borders, showed little interest.
Uzbek authorities can have no official idea who now owns chunks of the country’s most important industries. Because the firms concerned were two Scottish limited partnerships, or SLPs, called Ternesy Development and Newgen Trade, both registered at maildrops in the capital. Their ownership is entirely opaque.
They have failed to comply with new UK Government requirements that they reveal their real owners, their “persons of significant control” or PSC, if they had them.
Ternesy can be traced back to partners that are shell companies in Panama. Newgen has its nominal parents in equally opaque Belize.
There is no way to know how successful their investments were. SLPs do not need to file accounts. Or pay tax.
An English limited liability partnership or LLP called Primebury Trade last year also bought in to a Uzbek cottonseed mill. Its anonymous parents were in the Seychelles. But it did issue a PSC statement. Where was its owner from? Uzbekistan.
The Herald last month revealed that just one in 12 active SLPs have actually named a real person as their “person of significant control”. However, three quarters of people who were identified as owners came from the former Soviet Union.
As of September we calculated there were 95 active SLPs with named individuals as official owners in Uzbekistan.
There is no way of knowing how many SLPs have Uzbek owners or business interests but have not declared this. The vast majority of SLPs have made no ownership disclosures.
Last year The Herald reported the nephew by marriage of Uzbekistan’s then hardline president Islam Karimov was in a turf war over control of an SLP, called Brook Organisation.
That SLP – which has also since failed to file a PSC – was at the centre of a corruption scandal over control of two fivestar hotels in Riga, Latvia.
The despotic Mr Karimov died last year. His nephew, Akbar Abdullayev, was arrested this year in Ukraine after being charged with embezzlement and fraud in Uzbekistan.