Uzbek bankers arrested in currency trading probe

By bne IntelliNews February 8, 2013

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Top managers from several Uzbek banks and credit organisations have been arrested for making illegal foreign currency transactions. The arrests come a week after Tashkent tightened already strict currency controls, banning the sale of foreign currency to Uzbek citizens.

The deputy CEO of Ipoteka bank, Muzaffar Ermatov, and several credit organization managers have already been arrested, RIA Novosti reports, citing a police source. Several Khalk Bank executives, including the head of the bank's Tashkent branch, are also wanted. The bankers are accused of running a criminal scheme to buy foreign currency at the official exchange rate to then sell it on the black market, where rates are typically around 35% higher. The transactions are alleged to have taken place between 2010 and 2012.

Under the new rules introduced on February 1, selling foreign currency to Uzbek citizens is now a criminal offence. Uzbek soms can still be exchanged for foreign currency, but only through transfers from personal payment cards to international payment cards.

Uzbekistan's Tax Committee warned on February 5 that all cash trading in foreign currency will incur criminal prosecution. "Entrepreneurs and individuals ... will be held liable for making settlements in foreign currency in the sphere of retail trade and services, including criminal liability," it said in a statement.

However, it seems the authorities have not quite ironed out all the problems in the new system. Uznews reports that Uzbeks who have acquired the new foreign currency payment cards have found they're not accepted by online hotel and air ticketing services, or by foreign online retailers.

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