(Changes dateline, adds background)
ALMATY Dec 12 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
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