Uzbekistan frees, deports Turkish businessmen

Uzbekistan frees, deports Turkish businessmen

ANKARA / ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Uzbekistan frees, deports Turkish businessmen

Turks had landed behind bars on charges related to economic crimes.

The Uzbek authorities have released four Turkish nationals from prison, bringing to 12 the number of Turks freed and deported from the Central Asian country since an amnesty law was declared last December, diplomatic sources said to Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

Turkish businessmen had landed behind bars on charges related to economic crimes amid long-standing tensions between Turkey and Uzbekistan over Tashkent’s allegations Turks in the country were involved in religious extremism and propaganda, according to Turkey’s diplomatic sources.

Among those released under the amnesty are five businessmen who were arrested last year in a major police raid on the Turkish-owned Turkuaz supermarket in Tashkent, the sources said, adding that a number of Turks remain behind bars.

Nine Turkish businessmen had been convicted of “tax evasion and creating shadow economy.” All their assets and property were confiscated by Uzbek authorities. Eight of the convicted Turks were amnestied and deported immediately in accordance with an amnesty law that was declared last December, Radio Free Europe reported on its website yesterday.

“Four released Turkish businessmen are still at the Turkish Embassy in Tashkent,” said Vahit Güneş, owner of Turkuaz Group, which has six shopping malls across Uzbekistan. Güneş was under arrest for nine months.

Güneş said there were nearly 50 Turkish prisoners still behind bars in Uzbekistan. “Uzbek authorities accuse us of missionary activities for the Gülen movement [led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen], but this is not true. I have no relation with the movement,” Güneş said.

The investment of nearly $60 million was seized “illegally” by Uzbek sources, claimed the businessmen.
“There had always been some problems stemming from Uzbek authorities,” said Rıza Nur Meral, the chairman of the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON), to the Daily News in a phone interview yesterday. “Mistreatment against Turkish businessmen should be ended immediately,” added Meral.

Sibel Utku Bila from Ankara and Gökhan Kurtaran from Istanbul contributed to this report.