Uzbek party nominates deputy cabinet head Aripov for PM

ALMATY (Reuters) - Uzbekistan’s ruling party nominated Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov for prime minister on Monday, a position soon to be vacated by president-elect Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The death of veteran leader Islam Karimov in September has prompted the transition. The head of state wields sweeping powers and the prime minister is more of a technocrat figure.

Aripov, a telecommunications engineer by training, had worked as deputy prime minister between 2002 and 2012, overseeing for much of that time the telecoms sector, which has been tainted by foreign allegations of corruption.

Mirziyoyev returned him to the same position shortly after becoming interim president following Karimov’s death.

The party said on its website that Aripov, 55, was “capable of taking responsibility for reforms”.

Some country-watchers had expected another deputy prime minister, Rustam Azimov, to become cabinet head, reflecting his status as a political heavyweight in the former Soviet Central Asian nation of 32 million people.

Mirziyoyev, 60, was elected president this month. The government has yet to announce the date of his inauguration.

Aripov is little known outside secretive Uzbekistan and there is no official information about his occupation between 2012 and 2016.

A leaked 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks described a meeting between Aripov and then deputy assistant secretary of state Evan Feigenbaum in 2007 to discuss the investment climate and regulatory pressure on then U.S.-owned Uzbek cellular provider COSCOM.

“Aripov does not get it,” the diplomats wrote in the comments section. “Aripov appears uninterested in taking any steps to improve the overall business climate.”

Nordic telecommunications giant Telia took over COSCOM in 2007. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and state prosecutors of the Netherlands started investigating Telia’s dealings with Uzbekistan.

Aripov lost his job as deputy prime minister the same year.

In September, U.S. and Dutch authorities proposed Telia pay $1.4 billion to resolve allegations that it paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to secure business in Uzbekistan.

Telia said in its third quarter report that it had recorded a provision for $1.45 billion, adding resolution of the investigations would require negotiation with the government agencies involved.

Telia Chairman Marie Ehrling acknowledged in September Telia’s entry into Uzbekistan “was done in an unethical and wrongful way” and it was “prepared to take full responsibility”.

The diplomatic cables identified Gulnara Karimova, the late president’s daughter, as the person behind regulatory pressure on COSCOM, and according to U.S. and Dutch prosecutors she had personally benefited from its sale.

Karimova has not appeared in public for the last two years after several media outlets reported she had been placed under house arrest on her father’s order. Unlike her mother and sister, Gulnara Karimova was not seen in any state TV footage from his funeral. She has not commented on the Telia case.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent; Editing by Alison Williams