Boss of Turkmen Chemicals Giant Hopes to Save his Skin by Appointing Influential Colleague

After the Prosecutor General’s Office began sweeping inspections at the Turkmenhimiya state concern, the chairman of the concern, Niyazly Niyazlyev, appointed a new head of the department for foreign economic relations, Merdan Garlyev. Nicknamed the Hare, Garlyev is known for his enormous appetites and useful connections, which, Niyazlyev hopes, will help him to avoid the negative consequences of the departmental inspections.

Niyazly Niyazlyev – head of Turkmenhimiya State Concern, and Hajymyrat Rejepov – nephew of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov

From the editor: This report is the latest in a series on corruption, cronyism, and systematic misappropriation in the state sector of the economy and the law-enforcement agencies in Turkmenistan. All the facts in this report have been thoroughly checked, though many of them are actually common knowledge in the relevant circles. The corrupt officials are not concerned so much with total secrecy, as with covering their backs from inspections by the state agencies responsible for the relevant sector. If the regulatory authorities themselves are involved in illegal schemes, no one is worried if ordinary employees find out about them.

But many people don’t like the prevailing situation. Rank-and-file workers at Turkmenhimiya, sources in the government, and even in the law-enforcement agencies who are committed to their work and concerned about the fate of their country would like state agencies and industry to work for the good of society and not to enrich individuals. This is especially important in sectors such as chemistry, which is one of the main sources of budget revenue. These people hope that the country’s top leadership will take an interest in this information. The situation is already so difficult that it can be resolved only through the political will and intervention of the president of Turkmenistan.

Merdan Garlyev is a famous figure in oil and gas circles in Turkmenistan. He was the chief administrator and then deputy head of the management team at Turkmengaz. From there he was transferred to the Ahal gasoline plant, and he was deputy director of the polymer plant at Kiyanly when he was appointed to Turkmenhimiya in mid-December.

It should be said that head of the department for foreign economic relations is not a simple clerical job in the huge structure that is Turkmenhimiya. All the international tenders and state procurement for the sector depend on this person’s signature. Apparently cognizant of the importance of his new position, Garlyev the Hare, who is just over 40, has already managed to furnish his new second-floor office with stylish furniture, a white chair, and light-coloured carpets. The décor is just as good as the minister’s.

It wasn’t the Hare’s professional qualities that made Turkmenhimiya chairman Niyazly Niyazlyev (pictured) appoint him head of the department for foreign economic relations, but his influential family connections, which have played a significant role in Merdan Garlyev’s own career. Niyazlyev too is relying on these connections. With the inspections at Turkmenhimiya ongoing, Murat Charyev’s position as head of Turkmenhimiya’s department for foreign economic relations became shaky. After the publication of the reports he was demoted to head of the procurement department and has been practically a daily visitor to the prosecutor’s office for questioning.

But who is Garlyev the Hare? Why does the head of the state concern think that Garlyev could protect him from dismissal and, perhaps, imprisonment? According to sources, a close relative of Garlyev has a top position at Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Moreover, Merdan’s brother Eziz Garlyev, is an old friend of Hajymyrat and Shamyrat Rejepov, the well-known nephews of former Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Hajymyrat holds the monopoly on the export of Turkmen urea (carbamide), which is produced, as it happens, by Turkmenhimiya.

Eziz Garlyev (left on photo with Osman Muhammedov – son of Hojamuhamed Muhammedov) is also the son-in-law of Hojamuhamed Muhammedov, a former chief administrator for the president of Turkmenistan. Muhammedov was dismissed from all his posts in 2013 because of the unseemly behaviour of his relatives. The then minister of internal affairs, Isgender Mulikov (now serving a long prison term), said at a government meeting that two sons and the son-in-law of the president’s chief administrator had on several occasions started fights and brawls in entertainment venues in Ashgabat, hotels in the Avaza tourist area, and even on board a plane.

Although Hojamuhamed Muhammedov is no longer a senior official, he has not lost his political influence. He is now in charge of trade and the consumer union in Ahal region. Some three years ago Muhammedov acquired a second “useful” son-in-law, when he gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to another of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s nephews. There are reports that in 2023 after ten years in disgrace Muhammedov will be appointed minister of trade, and after that will be returned to the post of the president’s chief administrator. Moreover, sources say that Muhammedov wants to be the country’s next president.

For now though, Niyazly Niyazlyev is forecasting a bright future for Garlyev. Observers in Ashgabat think that Murat Charyev cannot avoid arrest as a result of the current inspections. Niyazlyev does not intend to stand up for him. Instead, he plans to ride out the “storm” and then to continue his fraudulent dealings, this time with Merdan Garlyev, by, for example, supplying a far smaller volume of fertilizer to the regions than required and selling the “saved” fertilizer through his own people, or promoting the interests of various foreign companies in tenders.

A more recent example: the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange of Turkmenistan has approved a triple tender from a well-known Turkish firm for the Kiyanly polymer plant. The firm is to supply parts and reagents, to service equipment, and provide consultancy services. At the end of September 2022 Turkmenhimiya sent the firm’s cost estimate to the Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange for approval. The exchange did not give its approval, however, considering its prices vastly inflated. With the arrival of Merdan Garlyev the Hare, though, the issue has already been sorted out: pressure was put on the exchange, the estimates were sent to the Higher Control Chamber and from there to the Cabinet of Ministers to be signed off by the president. Plus ça change…

P.S. According to sources, back in 2020 when he was still the future president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov told Niyazlyev to stop dealing with Hajymyrat Rejepov. Niyazlyev at that time put a lock with a code on the fifth floor where his office was located, and instructed his aides to allow visitors to enter only with prior appointment. Throughout this period he continued to see the president’s cousin at the latter’s villa in Gazha, where he still sees him today.

Here’s an example of one of the more frequent types of fraud: 500,000 tons of urea priced at 160 dollars a ton appear on the commodity exchange. Local brokers representing various foreign firms have already been warned that the entire consignment will go to Hajymyrat Rejepov’s firm Ak Hazyna. But sometimes not everyone is in the know and a real auction begins. It happened this year. The representative of a buyer in Afghanistan tried to acquire the entire consignment at the starting price, but Ak Hazyna’s brokers increased the price to $170 a ton. The Afghans then offered $180 and the firm of Berdimuhamedov’s nephew $190. In the end, when the price reached $280, the Afghans withdrew from the deal as they thought the price too high. The whole consignment of urea went to Ak Hazyna, and Hajymyrat Rejepov had to pay $140 million (500,000 tons at $280). According to the trading rules, payment should be made within ten days, but some “office manoeuvring” followed. Head of the exchange Begench Charyev, Turkmenhimiya chairman Niyazly Nizyazlyev, and the former president’s nephew Hajymyrat Rejepov signed a deal which showed the initial price per ton – $160 – and not the final price of $280. As result the state received $80 million rather than $140 million, losing out on $60 million in one deal alone.

The inspections in Turkmenhimiya began in November and the export of urea from Turkmenistan was temporarily suspended. At least four employees at two depots of the Dokunhimiya enterprise responsible for supplying fertilizers were arrested. But they are ordinary workers, not people at the level of Niyazlyev and certainly not Rejepov. Serdar Berdimuhamedov has much more power now than in 2020. It remains to be seen whether this time he will manage to deal with his own relatives and those who enjoy their protection.