Uzbek Cotton Scandal
- The greatest single financial crime in Soviet history involved the massive underreporting of cotton production in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. Uzbek party boss Sharaf Rashidov, who ruled the republic from 1959 to 1983, treated Uzbekistan as his own fief and created a massive criminal family to run it. Cotton was Uzbekistan’s most important crop, and every effort was made to grow it. The Uzbek government beginning in the 1970s massively overreported the amount of cotton delivered to mills in Russia. These figures were never challenged by Moscow, and the Uzbek political machine received billions of rubles for imaginary cotton.Rashidov’s tactics were well known in Moscow, but his close friendship with party boss Leonid Brezhnev protected him from punishment. Following Brezhnev’s death in November 1982, Yuri Andropov ordered the KGB to begin a massive investigation of the Uzbek party. Rashidov either committed suicide, died of a heart attack, or was murdered, and the KGB began to roll up his subordinates. Hundreds of party and police officials were tried, and a number were sentenced to death and shot in 1985–1987. Brezhnev’s son-in-law, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Cherbanov, was tried and imprisoned for his role in protecting Rashidov. The Soviet press devoted thousands of pages to the story, heralding the punishment of the Rasdidov gang as a triumph for law and order.The MVD and KGB’s investigation of the “Uzbek mafia,” as it was called in the Soviet press, caused major problems for Moscow in the long run. Many Uzbeks believed that their nation had been singled out for racial or religious abuse, and that worse crimes had been committed in the European parts of the Soviet Union. Rashidov had tolerated Islam, and the investigation of corruption led to the arrest of a number of religious figures. In 1988–1990, there was ethnic violence in Uzbekistan, as the Uzbeks sought to maintain control of ethnically divided areas of their republic, resulting from the fear that Moscow was again seeking to minimize Uzbek interests.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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