Friends, relatives and business associates of Tajikistan's president are driving around in cars stolen off Germany's streets, according to the German government. German authorities have been attempting to raise the issue with Tajik officials since at least May, they confirmed Thursday after a German tabloid broke the story.
It is unclear from reports whether President Imomali Rakhmon is suspected of personally driving a stolen German car. But German investigators have reportedly traced about 200 stolen luxury cars, including 93 BMWs, to members of Rakhmon's inner circle and associates of his family.
Berlin's regional justice minister raised the issue with the German foreign minister in May, sending him a letter spelling out details of the investigation. German and Lithuanian investigators had used GPS technology to track the cars to Tajikistan, 3,500 miles away. They'd tried to ask Tajik officials about the cars, he said in the letter, but their questions "were not answered adequately." According to the German newspaper Deutsche Welle, German Foreign Ministry officials have raised the issue repeatedly but Tajikistan has refused to return the cars.
The central Asian republic of Tajikistan has -- there is no getting around this -- a significant reputation for political corruption. It ranked 154th out of 175 on this year's Transparency International corruption index, tied with Congo and one spot above Zimbabwe. Rakhmon has ruled the country since 1992, shortly after it broke away from the Soviet Union. The country borders Afghanistan and is considered a major source of heroin trafficking, as well as other organized criminal enterprises.
The German investigation would seem to confirm long-running speculation among Western diplomats based in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, according to EurasiaNet's David Trilling, that "many of the luxury cars plying Dushanbe’s streets were stolen in Europe (and traded, somewhere along the way, for heroin)."
On Friday, the day after the story broke, Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry announced that it would cooperate with German investigators but that the allegations were unfounded.