Sacked After Ten Years at the Top – What Brought Down Turkmenistan’s Interior Minister?

News of the dismissal of Turkmenistan’s minister of internal affairs, Isgender Mulikov, on October 1 was received with shock and schadenfreude – schadenfreude on the part of anyone who has ever had dealings with Turkmenistan’s police, and shock at the departure of an influential security chief, the Teflon-coated Mulikov. Time and again he had survived reprimands unblemished, dodging the fate of some of his former Security Council counterparts.

Isgender Mulikov

Over his years at the helm, Isgender Mulikov turned the largest of the security and law-enforcement ministries into an agency of retribution. It was while Mulikov was head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the saying gained currency “God forbid you end up in the hands of Turkmen police and doctors”; the meaning being that whoever was in a police torture chamber or treated by quacks in white lab coats would never be well again.

Corruption, impunity, lawlessness, torture and absolute disregard for the law – these are all associated with Turkmenistan’s police today.

Of course, the police did not enjoy much authority amongst the people before Mulikov’s appointment either – there was lawlessness and torture then too, but over the past ten years the ministry has totally discredited itself, turning into a monster devouring undesirables and even its own employees. Whoever has money is innocent, whoever has no protection is guilty. Remember how the head of Mary region police department, Mustafa Shikhiev, was sold down the river when in 2014 a car in the presidential cortege (according to the authorities it was a service vehicle belonging to the local administration) plowed into a crowd of schoolchildren, lining the highway to welcome the head of state. Was Shikhiev guilty in this specific instance? He wasn’t, but it was essential to find someone to carry the can, and Mulikov did his boss a great service in this respect.

It was under Mulikov that Turkmen detectives had tablets loaded with a full database of sex workers, both men and women, who with just one phone call could be summoned to provide the full range of their services.

One of the guardians of law and order got so carried away that he was caught on his victim’s camera. It wouldn’t have mattered – people have all kinds of sexual preferences after all – if he hadn’t driven the girl in broad daylight in his police car through the center of Ashgabat, when he was on duty and in uniform to boot. Whoever is interested can watch the video on our Telegram channel. The girl was no fool. Taking a leaf out of the cops’ own book, she blackmailed the married policeman: if he didn’t pay her, she would post the recording on the Internet. The policeman didn’t pay up, and the girl was as good as her word. This led to a huge scandal at work and at home: they managed to get the man off the hook but the author of the film clip was given 15 days of arrest…

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar stories involving Turkmen police officers over the ten years that Mulikov was head of the country’s main police department – the Interior Ministry. Their colleagues and rivals in other security ministries knew all about this, reporting everything upwards in the minutest detail. However, no police scandal touched the career of Isgender Mulikov, as he was the closest security chief to the president, and everyone in Ashgabat knew that their fathers had been friends and Interior Ministry veterans.

Nevertheless, one of the official reasons given for Mulikov’s dismissal was instances of corruption amongst rank-and-file employees discovered by the prosecutor’s office: one threatened drivers on the road to extort money, another stopped a report being drawn up about a road traffic offense in order to protect his friends, while a third (shock, horror) failed to stop a group of gardeners from the Ashgabat mayor’s office travelling in a vehicle not intended to carry passengers… But does anyone really believe that the minister himself would be removed for actions that have become a daily occurrence on Turkmenistan’s roads?

Isgender Mulikov, Chary Kulov and the Rumor of Berdimuhamedov’s Death

Practically everyone in Ashgabat who took an interest realized that Kulov and Mulikov not only knew each other well, but were also in business together. Chary Kulov collected pay-offs from Turkmen businessmen and acted, inter alia, in the former minister’s interests and under his protection. According to some reports, Kulov also controlled the supply of firearms, some of which were destined for other forces, to Interior Ministry agencies. He took the money abroad, particularly to Dubai, where he deposited it in bank accounts and bought elite property and cars. The sums were so large they allowed Kulov to live the high life, to have lavish houses and cars in Ashgabat and abroad, and to leave and return to the capital with no traffic in his way, as though he were the president himself. On his travels Kulov sought to make important friendships amongst Arab sheikhs, the political and sporting elite of the North Caucasus, and those close to the sons-in-law of the Uzbek president. He must have felt like the ruler of the world with so much, though not everything, under his control.

From left to right: Chary Kulov, UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov and Umid Mavlonov - a close friend of Uzbekistan president's son-in-law
Mixed martial artists Zubaira Tukhugov and Chary Kulov, in Dubai
Chary Kulov and Zubaira Tukhugov

Clearly, money, contacts (he knew many people at home and abroad and wielded great influence over Turkmen officials), and protection loosen the tongue as time goes by. According to an informed source, on one private occasion when he was abroad in the spring, Kulov described himself as the next president of Turkmenistan. This was quickly passed on “to the proper quarters.” The pretender must have felt something was wrong, as he didn’t return to Turkmenistan. And at the end of the summer a canard was circulated abroad: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had died. The information spread across the Internet at lightning speed, reaching the people of Turkmenistan too. The whole country was guessing for a month: was the president alive or not. The show was staged so professionally that even people close to Berdimuhamedov didn’t know about his health.

Only those involved in the performance know what exactly happened next. In July or August they managed somehow to lure Chary Kulov back to Turkmenistan where he was soon arrested. A limited number of employees from the prosecutor’s office, the presidential guard and the National Security Ministry “worked on” Kulov. Mulikov’s ministry had no access to him at all, and the interior minister could not know what testimony Kulov might have given.

The source also lends credence to a second version of events. Knowing that his position was shaky, Interior Minister Mulikov himself persuaded his friend Kulov to return to the country from Dubai. Kulov was to be cannon fodder for Mulikov, his Old Testament scapegoat who would be led into the desert. In order to sweeten the pill, Mulikov promised to do his utmost to ensure that he served a short sentence and was released in a couple of pardons; in the meantime he would create the right conditions for him in prison.

Initially, everything went according to plan, but then Kulov heard the sentence – 25 years, five of them to be served in the notorious Ovadan-Depe prison.

The prosecutor general revealed a curious fact in his speech at the Security Council on October 1. The Turkmenistan State News Agency report mentioned this in passing, but it was covered in more detail by the Watan news program. Mulikov was said to have committed an infringement on February 1, 2018 by appointing Berdimurat Berdiev the acting head of a correctional facility in Ahal region.

“This citizen [Berdiev] does not have the relevant education, as he is a veterinary surgeon by profession, which does not meet the requirements of the position. He has been dismissed,” the Turkmenistan State News Agency said without giving any more details.

Though the correctional facility was not named, the prosecutor’s speech talked about prison AH-T/2 (Ovadan-Depe), where the reason for the inspection and dismissal of the director were the luxury quarters prepared for a newly arrived prisoner. Who could that be? It’s not hard to guess – Chary Kulov. In the TV version the prosecutor general gave the date of Berdiev’s dismissal – September 24, 2019. The prosecutor’s office has a video recording made during the inspection of Ovadan-Depe.

Stripped of these privileges and knowing that for an attempt to seize power – this is the charge against Chary Kulov – he won’t get out of there alive, Mulikov’s protégé gave evidence against his patron under pressure from the security chiefs.

This is far from the whole story. New information will be revealed, and many more senior Turkmen officials will lose their jobs, as did the minister of trade Amandurdy Ishanov and others. One thing is clear: the crime of bribery and the minister’s alleged failure to keep a close eye on his bribe-taking subordinates do not play a significant role in the case. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs was, is, and will always be a hotbed of corruption and lawlessness, and the new minister, Mammetkhan Chakyyev, will not be able to put things right. In his ten years of service Isgender Mulikov got away with everything until he made just one slip: he did the bidding of his rich, ambitious friends, allowing one of them to set his sights on the highest pinnacle of power in the country, whether in words or in his imagination (only in his imagination?), for which he has paid a harsh price.

So far, Lt-Gen Isgender Mulikov has been demoted to the rank of major. What else is going to happen to him? Will he become the local policeman in some remote village, along the lines of Muhammetguli Ogushkov, the former prosecutor general who became an ordinary Ashgabat notary, or will he suffer the fate of another prosecutor general, Yaranmurad Yazmuradov, who was sentenced to a long term in 2013? Time will tell. In Turkmenistan they say that one of the reasons for Berdimuhamedov’s appointment of his son-in-law, Ikhlasgeldi Amanov, as consul-general in Dubai is to sort out the return of the property of Kulov, Mulikov, and others in the city.