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2006-07-07 05:50:00
Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

A Street Wisdom Primer on Corruption in

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DE RUEHAH #0716/01 1880550
R 070550Z JUL 06
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 ASHGABAT 000716 




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: A Street Wisdom Primer on Corruption in

Ref A: Ashgabat 564
Ref B: 05 Ashgabat 1266


1. (SBU) Rampant corruption in Turkmenistan pervades all
levels of society. Its root causes include high
unemployment, a general lack of civic pride, an unresponsive
and incompetent bureaucracy and long-standing societal
acceptance of bribery as a way to get better service or
advance personally. The system is used by President Niyazov
as a means of personal control over government officials at
all levels. The way corruption operates in the oil and gas,
health and education, construction and law enforcement
spheres differs, but all of these major economic sectors are
heavily affected. Official statistics on corruption are
unavailable, and most of this primer is taken from the
direct experiences of embassy employees and contacts, as
well as the conventional wisdom on the street. End Summary.

State-Sponsored Corruption: Pervasive by Design



2. (SBU) The pervasiveness of corruption in Turkmenistan is
an indication that rule of law does not effectively
function. The Government of Turkmenistan routinely engages
in corruption, largely as a measure of control. Although
Niyazov regularly fires officials for corrupt practices,
given the enormous quantities of loot he accuses his
officials of stealing, we must assume that he is aware of
the widespread practice, and he turns a blind eye in order
to extract loyalty from his subordinates. The widespread
corruption also gives him a ready-made hook to purge anyone
in his way. Since August of 2005, of the thirteen high-
level (ministerial and welayat hakim) positions purged, the
majority were fired for corruption, based on official press
reports. Though these high-level government officials were
officially sacked and prosecuted for taking bribes, the real
reasons were political, and should not be seen as a sign of
the regime's seriousness about fighting corruption.

Corruption's Roots


3. (SBU) Although corruption originally became widespread in
Central Asia during the Soviet period, particularly under
Brezhnev where the communist party famously transmogrified
into a mafia-style tribute system, it became more diffused
under Gorbachev's "perestroika" era -- less hierarchical and
arguably more pervasive. Continued in the current culture
of fear and repression in Turkmenistan under Niyazov's rule,
rampant corruption has helped to destroy any sense of civic
responsibility forcing citizens to survive by any means
necessary. There is no social inhibition against "greasing
palms" with bribes in order to get ahead of a neighbor or
colleague -- whether this means getting a child into

university, obtaining a good position or getting certain
business permits ahead of competitors.

To Bribe, or Not to Bribe?


4. (SBU) While corruption is pervasive, not all government
services in Turkmenistan require a bribe. Often, a citizen
who wants a routine government service has a connection who
will intervene to ensure that everything is done in the
proper timeframe, obviating the need for a bribe. If a
public official judges an applicant unable to make the
requisite payment, rather than press for the bribe, he/she
simply lets that person's application fall to the bottom of
the pile, to be acted upon after those who are paying for
the "premium service."

5. (SBU) Turkmenistan's high unemployment rate caused by a
diminished public sector, including massive layoffs in the
public health and education sectors (Note: In 2001 the
government laid off 11,000 health and 10,000 education
workers, and in 2004 an additional 15,000 healthcare
workers. End Note.), and chronic non-payment of wages, also
contribute to corruption. As the main employer in the

ASHGABAT 00000716 002 OF 006

country, the government's lack of transparency in the public
sector hiring process leads to further corruption.
Government officials who have access to decision-making in
personnel issues enrich themselves by receiving bribes for
providing these jobs. In order to obtain the lucrative
government positions where it is possible to collect such
bribes requires an initial bribe, as well as yearly -- or
sometimes monthly -- cash maintenance fees. This creates a
never-ending cycle of corruption: Corrupt officials "hire"
others for a cash payment or other consideration and these
employees then use their positions to make this money back
through the taking of bribes-for-services.

6. (SBU) The amount of a bribe depends on the position
offered. A PolEcon Asst's son was asked to pay $300 for a
communication technician position in the public telephone
company. An Ashgabat resident told a PolEcon Asst that for
$1,000 he could get a traffic police officer position.
Another Ashgabat resident said that a lawyer's position at
the Ministry of Justice can be bought for $10,000. During a
September 27 cabinet meeting, President Niyazov dismissed
several regional governors for embezzlement and corruption,
and accused the Governor of Ahal Welayat Myrat Atagarryev of
receiving bribes ranging in amount from $10,000 to $100,000
for hiring regional managers.

7. (SBU) Almost all services require bribes, for example:
-- Education Ministry: accepting students to universities;

-- Hospitals: providing "better" medical services;

-- City government: access to the new marble high-rise
"Elitka" housing.

-- Motor Vehicles: a driver's license can be obtained
through the normal procedure by taking the test and paying
the standard $3, or to avoid the test, one can pay anywhere
from $70 to $150, depending upon the type of license.

7. (SBU) In an office or ministry where corruption is
rampant, honest employees or those who do not generally
insist on taking bribes, are mistrusted by those above them
who do, and are often quickly replaced or supplanted by
those who "play the game."

High Turnover Creates "Shopping Spree" Mentality


8. (SBU) The infamous "revolving door" of top-level
officials in Turkmenistan fuels the fires for corruption in
Turkmenistan and accelerates its timetable. In what amounts
to an accelerated kleptocratic model of governance, when a
minister, deputy minister or office head is replaced, the
new official then replaces many of the officials below them,
and this is a prime opportunity for graft, corruption and
nepotism. Currently employed officials -- many of whom paid
for the position in the first place -- must again pay to
stay in place or face replacement by the new minister's
friends, relatives, fellow tribesmen, or more likely, job-
seekers who are willing to pay top dollar for the chance to
profit from a new high position. Additionally, the short
tenure of the top-level officials -- all are appointed for a
six-month probationary period -- motivates them to take full
advantage of their position, grabbing as much financial
benefit as possible before they are inevitably demoted,
banished or imprisoned.

The Myth of Cheap Living in Turkmenistan


9. (SBU) As long as officials at every level benefit from
the practice, the Government of Turkmenistan is unlikely to
fight corruption in any meaningful way. While Niyazov makes
a public show for both domestic and international audiences
about providing free education, medical care, new modern
housing, inexpensive gasoline, one dollar airline tickets
and many other benefits, the true cost of living in
Turkmenistan requires making additional, off-the-books
payments in order to get the allegedly "free" or "low-cost"
items or services. For example, even though a citizen of
Turkmenistan can book a domestic flight on Turkmenistan

ASHGABAT 00000716 003 OF 006

Airways for just $2.40, in reality, these flights are often
"sold out" but for the additional fee of $20 to the right
official you can book a place, depending upon the
destination, according to a PolEcon Asst, who regularly pays
this extra fee for airline tickets. In rural areas in
Turkmenistan, if someone from a well-to-do family is getting
married, the family usually pays a pre-emptive bribe of a
few bottles of vodka or other liquor to the municipal power
authority in order to avoid having the electricity cut
during the wedding reception. A further example is paying
$2,000 - $3,000 to one or more prison officials to ensure
that your relative is included in the annual amnesty list of

Oil & Gas


10. (SBU) Corruption in the petroleum sector is
characterized by two main factors: Lack of transparency, and
lack of market mechanisms. The entire industry is
structured in order to mask a huge portion of government
revenue by accumulating it in off-shore, off-budgetary
funds. This then provides ample opportunities to hide the
real amount and flow of the budget funds. For instance, on
May 20, 2005, former Deputy Chairman for Oil and Gas Yolly
Gurbanmuradov was accused of using Petroleum Fund resources
without authorization. He allegedly misappropriated $48
million earmarked for the State Petroleum Fund, "re-
allocating" this money without following the appropriate
procedures. Furthermore, Turkmenistan practices unfair
procurement processes, especially in the oil and gas
sectors. Through pre-arranged tenders with foreign
companies of questionable pedigree, government officials
regularly overprice various services and supply contracts
and then split the illegal mark-ups with tender "winners."

11. (SBU) Another example of the lack of market mechanisms
causing corrupt practices in the oil and gas sector is the
long-standing barter deal with Ukraine for natural gas
supplies. Government of Turkmenistan officials reportedly
receive bribes from Ukrainian companies for overpricing the
cost of goods supplied to Turkmenistan as payment for gas
deliveries. In a recent meeting with PolOff, a Ukrainian
diplomat admitted that the barter arrangement between the
two countries provided "many opportunities for corrupt
practices." In June 2005, Ilyas Chariyev, the former
Turkmennebitgaz Trade Corporation Chairman was accused of
applying the so-called "coefficients" of goods supplied from
Ukraine, using the false numbers to skim profits from the
monetary difference in the actual price of the barter
goods. The investigation revealed that Chariyev almost
tripled the prices of the barter merchandise received.
Additionally, state-subsidized consumer oil products -- such
as gasoline and kerosene -- are smuggled to Uzbekistan and
Kazakhstan where their price is considerably higher,
providing high profits for smugglers. Border officials who
permit this illicit trade also benefit from the arrangement
via bribes and payoffs.

12. (SBU) The state controls the salaries of all employees,
paying them considerably less than foreign companies pay
their local staff doing similar jobs in Turkmenistan. This
leads to a sense of entitlement to "make up the difference"
through bribery and other corrupt activities. A common
practice among local officials in the industry is to boost
their income -- and thus, that of foreign firms with
production sharing agreements (PSAs) -- by increasing the
amount of oil extracted, over the agreed-upon quota, in
return for a bribe. The foreign firms can then sell the
extra oil on the open market for increased profits.

Health and Education


13. (SBU) There is widely-recognized corruption in the
public sector health, education and employment industries,
due in large part to low salaries. Bribes are both expected
and required to provide an adequate standard of living for
people in these professions and their families. For
example, most doctors require that patients pay "off-the-
record" fees in addition to the actual fee for their

ASHGABAT 00000716 004 OF 006

services. There are informal rates for every type of
service. For example, an embassy employee recently paid her
doctor an additional $10 off-the record fee for a
tonsillectomy (surgery), while the actual fee was $16.
Expecting mothers are a reliable target for this kind of
extortion. A local embassy employee recently paid a bribe
of $100 to have her baby delivered, even though the normal
fee is just $40. Another local employee, whose daughter
needed hernia surgery, paid roughly $200 to doctors and
caregivers in order to ensure better care. (Note: the
average monthly salary in Turkmenistan is $62. End Note.).

14. (SBU) In the education sector, a steep decline in the
quality of secondary school education and the reduction of
admission slots in Turkmenistan's universities has increased
corruption dramatically. Reportedly, headmasters of
Ashgabat's elite schools require a $200 - $500 bribe to
place a child. Admission to a Turkmen university can be
secured for anywhere between $5,000 and $7,000 which is
equal to the official tuition in the country's only private



15. (SBU) Construction is one of the few fields where
foreign companies are allowed to widely operate in
Turkmenistan. However, in order to acquire one of these
lucrative construction contracts from the government it
takes more than just good personal relations with
Turkmenistan's government agencies. The Trade Counselor at
the Turkish Embassy told PolOff that the Turkish
construction companies win their projects through open
tenders, but rumors about Turkish firms bribing the
Government of Turkmenistan officials abound. Former Deputy
Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers Yolly Gurbanmuradov was
charged with accepting over $1 million in bribes from Ilham
Ipekci, the head of the Turkish construction company ERKU,
for example. According to his conviction, in return for the
money, Gurbanmuradov allowed ERKU projects to pass unimpeded
through Construction Ministry inspections. In another
example, the former Head of the Presidential Apparatus Rejep
Saparov was charged with bribery that included accepting
almost $1.4 million from the "Mensel" construction company,
another Turkish firm (Reftel A).

Law Enforcement


16. (SBU) Although the Government of Turkmenistan rarely
acknowledges corruption in law enforcement ministries, the
recent fall from grace of former Prosecutor-General
Gurbanbibi Atajanova provided ample evidence of corrupt
practices. In addition to her dismissal for various crimes,
not least of which was corruption, 14 other procurators were
also relived of their responsibilities for similar
misdeeds. There are several other examples of high-ranking
law enforcement officials involved in corruption. For
example, in June 2002 the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan
sentenced Committee of National Security Chief Muhammed
Nazarov, Deputy Khayit Kakayev and Department Chief
Allamurad Allakuliyev to 20 years of imprisonment for
accepting bribes, exceeding their authority, involvement in
illegal drug trade and other crimes. Also on November 18,
2005 the president issued a decree firing the Head of the
Serkhetabat border detachment Major Kakajan Kakyshovich
Tajibayev due to the involvement of border guards in narco-
trafficking. Reftel B also outlines how police involved in
criminal investigations often exploit the system for their
personal gain, with little to no regard for putting
criminals behind bars.

17. (SBU) When criminal charges are put forward, law
enforcement officials will take bribes at every step of the
case's passage through the justice system. EmbOff's
domestic employee's spouse was apprehended on a criminal
charge and the investigator immediately started asking for
money to help "fix" the case. A small sum was requested and
paid, but the case did not disappear. Prior to the trial,
prison officials extorted sums of money in order to allow
visitation rights as well as deliveries of food and medicine

ASHGABAT 00000716 005 OF 006

(much of which was never actually delivered). A forensic
psychologist requested a payoff through the police
investigator in order to render a favorable characterization
of the suspect's state of mind.

18. (SBU) Turkmenistan's traffic police are notoriously
corrupt. Their modus operandi is to stop drivers for
alleged traffic infractions and then shake down the drivers
for a dollar or two as an alternative for getting a ticket
or larger fine. Most of the time the fine is paid as a
convenient alternative to going through the bureaucratic
hassle of paying the fine for the violation in person, and
the amount of the bribe is always less than the fine itself.
For example, failure to yield is a 25,000 manat ($0.90)
ticket, but a bribe of just 20,000 manat saves a trip to the
traffic police. In August 2002, Niyazov tried to fight
corruption in law enforcement by transferring the Ministry
of Internal Affairs' (MIA) Traffic Police departments to the
newly created Ministry of Defense State Traffic Control
Service. The idea was that the new agency would employ
young conscripts with "clean minds" who were not yet
involved in the previous agency's corrupt practices.
However, the practice of accepting bribes continues, and
these young people readily accept bribes, due to two
factors: their wages are so meager and they are often
forced to do so by their supervisors -- many of whom were
simply old MIA officers who obtained positions similar to
their old ones in the new agency.

Small Businesses

19. (SBU) A large number of small enterprises exist in
Ashgabat, from family-owned stores selling basic food
products, to wholesale beverage suppliers, to bars and
restaurants. According to anecdotal evidence, no small
enterprise can succeed without a "krisha," or roof --
someone in a "power" ministry (Ministries of National
Security and Internal Affairs, or the General Prosecutor's
office) who can intercede when government officials are
causing problems. Some restaurants and bars, for example,
pay bribes in order to avoid having to close down right at
11:00 p.m., as mandated by local law. The expat manager of
a new bar/disco, when asked how much he had to pay to stay
open until 04:00 a.m., simply answered "a lot." Another
common source of harassment for small business owners are
the myriad local authorities adept at finding "infractions"
within their purview. Unless the business owner has a high-
ranking "krisha," he is forced to settle with every minor
passing official who is looking for a handout. The friend
of one embassy staff member was shopping for a new "krisha,"
but finally decided that the cost of doing business
outweighed the benefits and closed his small food stall.



20. (SBU) While Turkmenistan's corruption problem has
existed since Soviet times and before, it has shown no sign
of diminishing over the last fifteen years and in many
instances has become much worse. Furthermore, President
Niyazov benefits directly from the established system, both
personally and politically -- either making token efforts to
"clean up" government in order to increase his cult of
personality, or by using it as a weapon when he needs to
clean house and fire ministers whom he has deemed too
powerful or a threat to his rule, so as to consolidate his

21. (SBU) It should be noted that, unlike many states in
the post-Soviet sphere (and elsewhere), Turkmenistan has
little or no organized crime independent of the government.
Elsewhere, organized crime bosses have key government
officials in their pockets; here, the capos and dons are the
officials themselves and their subordinates are the foot

21. (SBU) In addition to its political utility to Niyazov,
corruption also in a way solves the gross inefficiencies of
Turkmenistan's economy. With prices kept artificially low
to perpetuate the myth of Turkmenistan's "Golden Century,"
the black market price of goods and services ends up being a

ASHGABAT 00000716 006 OF 006

truer reflection of economic reality. END COMMENT