Brussels (25/10 – 42.86)
An independent investigation revealed the secretive daughter of Tajikistan’s president has quietly built a health-care empire that benefits from government largesse, state promotion, and lobbying from her husband, an ambassador for the Central Asian nation.
Parvina Rahmonova is among the many children and other relatives of authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon who have amassed significant wealth or been appointed to senior government positions since he came to power more than three decades ago.
An independent investigation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has found that the little-known daughter of Tajikistan’s president, Parvina Rahmonova has built a medical empire that is generously supported by the state with finance and PR, and her husband, who is ambassador to Turkey, provides her with lobbying services.
Unlike several of Rahmon‘s other children, however, Rahmonova maintains a nearly invisible public profile. She rarely appears in publicly available family photographs and she is not mentioned by name on the website of Tajikistan’s embassy in Turkey, where her husband, Ashraf Gulov, has served as ambassador since 2021.
Behind the scenes, however, Rahmonova controls a company that in a six-year span has become a dominant force on Tajikistan’s pharmaceutical market with the help of the firm’s political connections.
Since its founding in 2017, the company, Sifat Pharma, has secured millions of dollars in government tenders while building a network of nearly 20 pharmacies in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. And when the Tajik government bought EU-produced ventilators and medication during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rahmonova’s company served as the middleman.
Rahmonova’s business has also received fawning coverage on government-controlled television in Tajikistan, while the company’s founding ceremony was promoted by the Health Ministry.
While Rahmonova’s role as Sifat Pharma’s sole owner is not publicly acknowledged by state officials, media, or entities, the story is different behind closed doors. During business gatherings in Dushanbe, the director of a Sifat Pharma subsidiary often highlights that the firm is owned by the president’s daughter.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (center) stands with family members in an undated photo. His fifth daughter, Sifat Pharma owner Parvina Rahmonova, stands second from the right.
Investigations further revealed:
- Sifat Pharma General-Director Sherali Kholov is among the shareholders of the International Bank of Tajikistan, which a previous investigation by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service found had links to the brother of Rahmonova’s ambassador husband;
- Another executive with a Sifat Pharma subsidiary tells competitors not to bid for government tenders in which the firm is participating, according to two entrepreneurs active in the same sector;
- Rahmon himself helped facilitate a partnership between his daughter’s company and a French pharmaceutical firm;
- A Sifat Pharma subsidiary owned by the daughter of Rahmonova has also won government contracts.
In late September 2017, at a stately, columned building not far from the Tajik presidential residence in Dushanbe, officials and guests entered through an arc of pink and white balloons to celebrate the opening of Sifat Pharma.
Speaking at the event, the country’s first deputy health minister at the time, Saida Umarzoda, said the company will have a “prominent role in providing the population with high-quality medicines” and in developing the country’s pharmaceutical sector, according to an account of the event, which was also covered by national and local news agencies, posted on the ministry’s website.
The company had already signed cooperation agreements “with the ministries of health and pharmaceutical industries of Belarus, India, and Iran in order to provide the population of Tajikistan with medicines that conform to international standards,” the Tajik Health Ministry said.
It was a heady start for a company that had been incorporated less than five months earlier.
Photographs of the event do not show Rahmonova in attendance, nor did the Health Ministry mention her name, though her father-in-law, former Energy and Industries Minister Sherali Gul, did attend.
Sifat Pharma’s opening ceremony in September 2017 was promoted on the website of the Tajik Health Ministry.
Promotion on a state website is not the only help Rahmonova’s company has received from the government.
From its incorporation through August 2023, Sifat Pharma has won $5.5 million in government contracts to supply medicine to the Health Ministry and a range of state medical entities, according to state procurement records and reviews.
Two of Sifat Pharma’s subsidiaries — a medical-clothing factory called Sifat Sanoat and a medical services company called Tibbi Tojik — have won more than $326,000 in government tenders, the records show.
The total value of Rahmonova’s empire is difficult to quantify. Tajikistan does not publish records on the amount of taxes companies pay to the government, and officials’ income and asset declarations of the kind her husband would have to submit as an ambassador are not publicly available.
In 2019, the head of Tajikistan’s state Civil Service Agency said that Tajik society “is not ready” for the obligatory asset and income declarations for officials and their relatives to be made public.
“Whenever the level of society’s thinking and understanding is equal to that of Western society, we will definitely solve the problem,” the official, Juma Davlatzoda, told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service at the time.
But according to Sifat Pharma’s own website, it currently operates 18 pharmacies in Tajikistan, all but two located in Dushanbe.
Customs records showed Sifat Pharma has imported at least $3.2 million in goods — mostly medicine — since 2018, the earliest available data RFE/RL was able to find. That figure is likely considerably higher, as many of the shipment records do not indicate the value.
Rahmonova’s company has also received a helping hand from the man at the very top.
In November 2019, President Rahmon met with French entrepreneurs and investors during an official visit to France to discuss what his office described as “opportunities for the expansion of commercial and economic relations.”
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (left, gesturing) at a meeting of the Tajik-French Business Council in Paris on November 17, 2019. As a result of the meeting, Rahmon’s daughter’s company, Sifat Pharma, signed an agreement with a French partner.
As a result of the event — at which Rahmon delivered a speech and presentation on investment opportunities in Tajikistan — Sifat Pharma was among the Tajik companies that signed cooperation agreements, partnering with the French pharmaceutical company Laboratoire Innotech.
Months later, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was Rahmonova’s company that the Tajik government turned to when it acquired ventilators and medication.
In April 2020, Rahmon’s government allocated some 11 million somoni (around $1.1 million at the time) for the purchase of 27 ventilators from the German company Lowenstein Medical Technology as well as other medicine to combat COVID-19. The chosen middleman for this procurement was Sifat Pharma, according to news reports citing the Health Ministry at the time.
Lowenstein Medical Technology did not respond to e-mailed questions about the ventilators and their cost, and did not return phone messages left with the company.
By October 2021, an official Tajik investment brochure identified Sifat Pharma as one of three “key” companies in the country’s pharmaceutical sector.
Since Rahmon secured his grasp on power in Tajikistan in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, his children, as well as their spouses and in-laws, have amassed considerable wealth and political influence in the nation of some 10 million.
He has appointed three of his nine children to high-ranking government posts, most notably his eldest son, 35-year-old Rustam Emomali, who serves as chairman of the parliament’s upper chamber and the mayor of Dushanbe — and is widely seen as the president’s favored successor. In his current post in parliament he would become interim president should his father step down.
Media controlled by Rustam Emomali has also promoted his sister Rahmonova’s business interests.
The television station Dushanbe TV carried a fawning, nearly 20-minute report profiling Sifat Sanoat, which is owned by Rahmonova and is listed by Sifat Pharma as a subsidiary. The report praised Sifat Sanoat, which manufactures medical clothing such as lab coats and hospital gowns, for the quality of its production and its role as a job provider. (It is unclear exactly when the report was broadcast, but a copy was uploaded to YouTube in 2022.)
Dushanbe TV is controlled by the municipal government of Dushanbe that Emomali runs as mayor of the capital. Attempts to reach the network for comment were unsuccessful.
Rustam Emomali (left), chair of the Tajik parliament’s upper chamber and the mayor of Dushanbe, is widely seen as the favored successor to his father, President Emomali Rahmon (right).
In the report, Sifat Sanoat’s director, Hokimsho Idiev, called on other entrepreneurs to create jobs in the country. “I think that the national sense of all entrepreneurs should be awakened and they should contribute to the implementation of the policy of the president. At least in the field of creating jobs,” Idiev said.
But two businesspeople working in the same sector claimed in interviews with RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that Sifat Sanoat was pressuring competitors not to seek out state tenders. Both of the individuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears of retribution, said that Idiev had told them to refrain from competing for tenders to produce medical clothing. “I wanted to bid for the contract. I called [Idiev] for advice. He told me: ‘Don’t try for this tender because it’s ours.’ After this conversation, I decided not to bid,” one of the entrepreneurs said. The director of another company also said Idiev had “asked” them “not to take part” in state tenders for medical clothing. One of these individuals said that during business gatherings in Dushanbe, Idiev often introduces Sifat Sanoat as “the company of the president’s daughter.” Idiev did not respond to a request for comment.
In the report aired by Dushanbe TV, Idiev said Sifat Sanoat “provides services for medical colleges and Dushanbe road-management agencies.” State procurement records reviewed by RFE/RL show that Sifat Sanoat has won $142,500 worth of government contracts since March 2019.
Sifat Sanoat also has received lobbying assistance from a senior government official: Rahmonova’s husband, Rahmon’s ambassador to Turkey.
In July 2022, the Tajik state news agency Khovar reported that a delegation of Turkish entrepreneurs traveled to Tajikistan “with the initiative and assistance” of Gulov, whom Rahmon appointed as his envoy to Turkey the previous year.
The visit — based on the report, at least — proved fruitful for Gulov’s well-connected wife.
As a result of the visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Rahmonova’s medical-clothing company Sifat Sanoat and the Turkish equipment manufacturer Dundarlar, according to the Khovar report, which included a photo featuring the Sifat Sanoat logo and showed women sewing medical clothing.
Gulov did not respond to a request for comment sent to the Tajik Embassy in Turkey.
Gulov had previously used his ambassadorship to encourage bilateral commercial ties in his wife’s line of business.
Ashraf Gulov, the Tajik ambassador to Turkey, has promoted bilateral trade in the pharmaceutical sector in which his wife’s company is a market leader in Tajikistan.
In November 2021, Gulov hosted a webinar on the “partnership of Tajik and Turkish companies in the medical and pharmaceutical industry,” according to a news release posted on the website of the Tajik Embassy in Turkey.
The news release said the discussion included “the importance of developing cooperation” in these fields, though the embassy did not post a video or transcript of the event. A screenshot showing numerous participants, however, shows that attendees included Sifat Pharma’s general director, Sherali Kholov.
Kholov’s business links extend not only to Rahmonova, but to other relatives of Gulov as well. Kholov, whom the Tajik presidential website described as a “patriotic entrepreneur” and praised for building a Dushanbe kindergarten, is the owner of the International Bank of Tajikistan, which has partnered in two companies with Gulov’s brother, Jamshed.
According to the website of the Tajik Embassy in Turkey, Gulov and his wife have five children, though the embassy does not mention Rahmonova by name or the fact that she is the Tajik president’s daughter.
Records from Tajikistan’s corporate registry show that a daughter of the couple has since joined her mother’s health-care empire, founding a company that Sifat Pharma lists as a subsidiary and which has received state contracts.
In February 2018, the company Sifat Tabobat was incorporated in Tajikistan, with its lone shareholder listed as Ramziya Gulova, one of Gulov and Rahmonova’s daughters. At the time, Gulova was a first-year university student. That company, which has since been renamed Tibbi Tojik, is among the four companies that Sifat Pharma lists as subsidiaries.
State procurement records show that Tibbi Tojik, whose corporate registration describes it as a medical-services company, has won $184,000 in state contracts since 2022.Its state clients include the central hospital in the northern Gafurov district and the state anti-epizootic center in Dushanbe.
There is little public information about Gulova. But public documents reviewed by RFE/RL indicate that she studied at the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe in recent years.
A student publication at the university from April 2018 reported that Rahmonova and Ashraf Gulov had attended a campus event at which “one of the major achievements” was the selection of Gulova as one of the event’s moderators.
Sifat Pharma’s Jamshed Hamidov (left) signs an agreement with Laboratoire Innotech International on November 17, 2019, during President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to France.
Source : RFERL