Up Against the “Mafia”

Viktor Loshak, Up Against the “Mafia.” As Seen by the Hero of the Story. April 3, 1988
Original Source: Moscow News, 3 April 1988.

The Uzbek case has been the biggest in Soviet postwar history in terms of ‘the sums stolen and the political economic and social damage caused by the crime. TELMAN GDLIAN, senior investigator of major cases under the Procurator-General of the USSR, has been investigating this case for five years.

Gdlian always keeps at hand the ‘List of Deputies to the 11th USSR Supreme Soviet’. He uses it to specify details in the biographies of those with whom he is now dealing. A couple of years ago, those in Gdlian’s care, if taken together, would probably have been deciding the major questions of Uzbekistan’s life. Today the Chairman of the Republic’s Council of Ministers, four Secretaries of the Central Committee, two Ministers, and six First Secretaries of the Regional Party Committees are only answering questions.

It is usually believed that a criminal always expects to be put behind bars at any moment. But the Uzbek case has, in many respects, refuted this notion: the very criteria of legality were somehow lost in the Republic. Keeping up only the appearance of order, the militia became simply a faction in the war between different groups. ‘The first year we were lucky in that they weren’t united against us and did not consider us a serious threat,’ Gdlian maintains.

Gdlian was sent to Uzbekistan in the spring of 1983, a few months after Leonid Brezhnev’s death. The republic was still under the command of Sharaf Rashidov. For five years ‘Rashidovshchina’ (loosely translated as the times of Rashidov’s rule) was the term used to describe many things: corruption, bribery running into thousands of rubles, the oppression of millions of people to the accompaniment of noisy reports and loud speeches…

Investigators would inevitably have to reckon with the almighty Rashidov. On learning who had exposed the bribe takers in Bukhara and caused the investigators to come from Moscow, the former First Secretary of the Central Committee of’ the Communist Party of Uzbekistan did all he could to remove the leaders of the republic’s KGB (State Security Committee) from Uzbekistan, and succeeded.

Telman Gdlian and his group found themselves to a great extent isolated.

This was, perhaps, the crucial moment. Many would have preferred the widely advertised case of bribe-taking in Bukhara, involving the regional militia and trade bosses to remain a local affair and be regarded as the result of ‘isolated shortcomings’. It is hard to imagine how many millions the ringleaders of the Uzbek mafia would have paid this investigator, on a modest salary of 365rubles, if only he would ‘lash out at the leaves without touching the roots’.

Further Investigations promised no joy–just a long search for the truth and five years of work without leave (in Moscow his wife, son and daughter were waiting for him). It should be said that during all the 47 years of his life Gdlian had never been considered either submissive or compliant. Was it due to these qualities that he remained in the lowest procurator’s rank–that of a junior jurist–three times the usual duration?

… The investigation continued. Abduvakhid Karimov, First Secretary of the Bukhara Regional Party Committee, whom Rashidov had once included amongst the ‘gilded society of Uzbekistan’, turned out to be ‘gilded’ in the literal sense of the word. There are three photo albums held at the Procurator’s Office these days: the pictures show heaps of gold tsarist chervontsy (ten-ruble coins), watches, Jewelry and trunks filled with money from Karimov’s ‘personal collection’. One photograph, incidentally, makes it clear how Gdlian feels about all this wealth: lie stands beside a box of treasures, an expression of weariness and disgust on his face.

It seemed convenient to stop at Karimov, but not even half the truth had been revealed. Gold busts, gold-embroidered portraits, gowns decorated with astrakhan and embroidered in gold were made in Bukhara for Brezhnev and Rashidov… In the court, which sentenced Karimov to be shot by firing squad, it was stated that the First Secretary of the Uzbekistan CP Central Committee alone had received 300,000rubles from Bukhara. Karimov had also managed to hand over dozens of thousands of rubles to Usmankhodzhayev, who replaced Rashidov.

Why? As hush-money. Some time after an earthquake in Gazli, Iu. Churbanov, First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR, came to check on how its aftermath was being dealt with. ‘There aren’t any cigarettes in the shops!’ he scolded Karimov right in the street. The latter drew certain conclusions from this incident and that same evening, at someone’s dacha, handed over 10,000rubles to Churbanov in exchange for his gracious promise ‘not to report his shortcomings at the top’.

Gdlian understood that the interests of the investigation demanded maximum information. Hundreds of times before the publication in May 1986 of the Resolution of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers ‘On the Repeal of the Resolution on Perpetuating the Memory of Sh. R. Rashidov’, lie drove across Tashkent past the Rashidov memorial, very much aware of the charade entailed in the visits of Young Pioneers and foreign tourists to this grave.

It was perhaps here that what was yet to be combated became particularly obvious. At this grave Rashidov’s successor Usmankhodzhayev pledged that the republic would fulfill the deceased’s behest to produce six million tons of cotton! And it did… Usmankhodzhayev summoned the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and ordered him to add’ to what had already been collected another 240,000 tons of raw cotton. All in all, that year, nearly a million tons were ‘added’, by distorting the results achieved. A quarter of a billion rubles received for this was embezzled.

After his five years in Uzbekistan, Gdlian now and again uses Uzbek words in conversation: ‘opa’ ‘wife’, ‘aka’-. esteemed’, ‘tukhmat’- ‘slander’, and again ‘Rashidovshchina’, which for him means also an extreme degree of cynicism, For instance, pinning a Hero of Socialist Labor Gold Star on someone, while whispering in his car: This isn’t gratis … it’ll cost you money’.

Taking the offensive against an all-round defense is how one could, perhaps, best define the work of Gdlian’s investigating team during the first four years. They heard about ‘fascism’, about repressive measures’, and about a secret assignment ‘to discredit the republic’ … And they worked, living like monks, resorting to ruses, flying from region to region in a military helicopter, or buying tickets in someone else’s name. They had to be ahead of the enemy by at least one day, one move, one step. The investigating team, which numbered by that time more than a hundred people from all over the country, counted the confiscated property. They were dealing with in sums of tens of millions, while borrowing rubles from each other: even investigators only get a 2.6 ruble travel allowance per day.

They worked hard. Evidence, photographs and voluntary acknowledgements of guilt built up to a picture, previously hidden from the public eye, showing the involvement of hundreds of people- in effect, the whole ruling stratum of Uzbekistan. The picture even shocked the investigators: these people held nothing sacred. They sold government awards, dachas, Party membership cards, seats on presidiums and places in cemeteries, official posts and deputy mandates. The most horrible implication of this was that people knew what was going on, but kept silent. In one of the kishlaqs, to which they flew to confiscate what had been stolen from the people, Gdlian was amazed: collective farm wages had not been paid for half a year, and there had not been a single complaint.

The work of Telman Gdlian’s investigation team may well be used eventually as a case study in the law faculties. It would be good if it also included a short story, as told by the investigator, about how they flew to a distant kishlaq to the well-known potter Kulol-bobo who, as was known, became one of the obedient ‘keepers’ of a highly-placed official’s treasures.

‘No,’ he said, l have nothing, don’t even search.’ Then I took his hand in mine. ‘Look what kind of hands you have, usto (master). Such hands are priceless! As for me,’ I said, ‘if they sack me, it will be difficult to find a new job, but everyone needs you with your hands of gold. Why do you disgrace them? Why do you hide what has been stolen from the people? He took me to an old mulberry tree out in the fields. What for, I thought ? But Kulol-bobo, it turned out, had a box containing 3,000 gold coins hidden in the bottom of’ an irrigation ditch… ‘Dig here!’ he pointed.

Hidden meanings of long compliment-strewn conversations over cups of tea, exchanges of courtesies with people on whom you know you’re going to put handcuff’, in a week’s time… This investigative work seemed more akin to diplomacy. Even the smallest detail could not be neglected.

It was decided to bring a charge against Ruzmet Gaipov, First Secretary of the Khorezm Regional Party Committee, the biggest bribe-taker, at the Procurator’s Office. His mansion was encircled. Gdlian and his colleagues went in to ask Gaipov to come with them. They were asked to take seats and offered tea. ‘At Ruzmet Galpovich’s former workplace he was called the “Lenin of Kashka Darya.” Gaipov’s wife said, as the host brought in his jacket covered in government awards. Then he returned to the wardrobe, and suddenly there was a cry. By the time Telman Gdlian got to the bedroom Gaipov had already managed to inflict 13 knife wounds on himself..

It is customary to Judge the success of Justice in terms of rubles, but, having returned only I fraction of what had been plundered by the “bais”, Gdlian’s team have been working all these five years its profitably as any well-organized business. However, there are bribes which no investigator can confiscate. Bribes of fame and spiritual values. Rashidov was made into a great writer, the Tashkent militia head Sattarov–arrested for bribes–into a journalist … Portraits, busts, giant murals the thirst for money paralleled by a craving for fame. After the court had witnessed this horrible picture of personal degradation, the former First Secretary of the Bukhara Regional Party Committee addressed the judges with these final words: ‘I beg you to take account of my personal contribution to the development of agriculture.’

It took five years of investigation to shed light on these silent intrigues behind the heavy curtains of Republican Power. Now the stage is becoming more brightly lit and the once heroic leaders diminish in statue as the floodlight of truth reaches them. It has already caught in its light the former Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR N. Shchelokov, and his First Deputy, Iu. Churbanov, implicated in the Uzbek case.

This exposure is due to the efforts of Gdlian and his aides, men with an independent outlook, not the usual justice department bureaucrats. As Nikolai Ivanov, Gdlian’s deputy in the investigating team, investigator of major cases under the Procurator-General of the USSR said: ‘We are not the sort of people who enter the chief’s room with our own opinion and leave it with his. To defend the law honestly you have to have your own position.’

6 Vladimir Mezhenkov and Eva Skelley, eds., Perestroika in action: a collection of press articles and interviews (Moscow: Progress, 1988), pp. 216-221.

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