Firm linked to president’s son-in-law reportedly awarded US$13 million government contract
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The firm, Modern Publishing, reportedly won the contract despite asking for more than 25 times as much money than the bid of runner-up Er-Graf, a reputable firm known in Dushanbe for high-quality work and competitive prices.
Er-Graf had offered to publish the book for about $435,000 — just a fraction of the nearly $13 million bid by Modern Publishing, according to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reportedly found that Modern Publishing linked to Shamsullo Sohibov, the wealthy son-in-law of President Emomali Rahmon.
In December 2019, Rahmon ordered the government to publish a book titled The Tajiks: Prehistory, Ancient, and Medieval History.
The book was written by Bobojon Ghafourov, a 20th-century Tajik statesman and historian. Originally published in Moscow in 1972, it is enormously popular in Tajikistan, where it is considered to be one of the most accurate interpretations of the nation’s history.
Rahmon ordered the government to publish 1.6 million copies of the book and distribute them free of charge to each household in Tajikistan.
Two months later, on February 21, the public procurement agency announced an open tender for publishing companies to compete for the contract.
The government reportedly allocated about $13.5 million to carry out Rahmon’s instruction. That is a substantial sum in Tajikistan.
Documents obtained by RFE/RL show that bids were submitted by three private Tajik firms: Modern Publishing, Er-Graf, and Ganj.
Ganj failed to reach the final stage of the public tender after its bid of about $14 million was deemed too expensive.
The documents show that Er-Graf offered to publish 1.6 million copies of the book for about $435,000, while Modern Publishing’s bid was nearly $13 million.
The chairman of the procurement agency that awarded the contract is Sohibov’s brother, Zainullo Sharifzoda, although the siblings use different surnames.
The procurement agency’s website shows that Sharifzoda took over as chairman on February 14, just a week before the so-called “open tender” was announced.
Nothing about the online tender appears to have been “open” or competitive.
A representative from Er-Graf was unable to explain why that company failed to secure the contract. She was unaware that the firm of President Rahmon’s son-in-law had asked for and received $12.5 million more to do the job.
“I think perhaps the price we pitched was quite high,” she told RFE/RL.
Sohibov’s name is not mentioned in any documents presented by Modern Publishing. However, RFE/RL’s investigations traced Modern Publishing to a conglomerate controlled by Sohibov called Faroz.
Faroz representatives claim the conglomerate was shut down in 2019.
RFE/RL’s investigation found in December that dozens of Faroz’s business had, indeed, been dissolved. But dozens more continued to operate without formally using Faroz’s name.
Faroz’s vast portfolio has included firms involved in transport, construction, trade, banking, metallurgy, tourism and hospitality, health care, education, and media.
Modern Publishing is officially registered at Zarnisor Street 3, Firdavsi District, in Dushanbe — the same address where several other Faroz businesses are located.
Those other firms include a driving school, a car service center, a gas station, and a fitness club.
Ganj — the third publishing firm that took part in the tender — is also registered at the same Dushanbe address. Ganj, which also belonged to Faroz, was officially launched in 2014.
RFE/RL’s probe showed that Ganj was still listed as a publishing firm in February when the tender was announced. It is now listed as a defunct business.
Modern Publishing was registered on August 16, 2019, just a month before Faroz announced it was going to dissolve all of its businesses, including Ganj.
Source: Asia Plus