The War Over Tajikistan’s Aluminum

by Joshua Foust on 1/13/2008

Back in August, we noted in passing the curious saga of Talco, an aluminum plant in Tajikistan that may have been caught in some sort of predatory arrangement with Hydro, a massive state-owned Norwegian mining interest. While at the time, that story was viewed in light of how it was indicating the changing locus of power in Central Asia (and how the journalist covering the story, Moscow-based John Helmer, was kind of shilling for Russia).

But now the story seems to thicken somewhat. Again quoting Helmer:

The High Court in London is considering a trial this year of claims to money, estimated to be as high as US$500 million per year, disappearing from the Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAz, Talco), whose principal trading partner is Hydro Aluminium, the state-controlled Norwegian aluminum producer.

The details of the UK court litigation, initiated by the smelter and its owner, the Tajik government, are accumulating in confidential records of preliminary and procedural hearings, which continue this month. A trial later in the year would expose the evidence publicly, and it is likely that Hydro will be summonsed to testify, not least of all because of admissions Hydro has publicly made to Asia Times Online that it has reassigned contracts signed a year ago with the smelter to a Caribbean cutout company with the same name as the smelter, Talco Management Limited (TML).

It’s actually quite confusing, involving multiple nested layers of front companies, potential money laundering by Tajik president Emomali Rahmon, and even World Bank and IMF criticism of Talco’s poor accounting practices. In essence, several hundred million dollars are missing, possibly moved through Caribbean front companies, and everyone is suing or has sued everyone else to find out what really happened.

It is a bit confusing, but this case could have ramifications for other shady business deals in the region. The involvement of a European company, and several European courts, in resolving the dispute could indicate other ways in which the West could try to impose its business standards on the region, and perhaps dampen the rampant nepotism and cronyism that currently infests business culture.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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