Uzbekistan jails ex-Oxus worker on spy charges

11th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Uzbekistan sentenced a former employee of British-based mining company Oxus Gold to 12 years of hard labour for spying, the company said Thursday.

"An Uzbek military court yesterday sentenced Said Ashurov, a former company employee, to 12 years hard labour on an espionage charge," the company statement said.

Oxus Gold has been locked in a legal dispute with Uzbekistan over tax evasion allegations. The company denies the allegations and says the government of Uzbekistan is attempting to steal the company's gold-mining assets.

Ashurov, 46, worked as a chief metallurgist at the Amantaytau Goldfields joint venture, which is developing some of the world's most promising gold fields in Uzbekistan.

Oxus Gold holds a 50 percent stake in the venture. The Uzbek State Geology and Mineral Resources Committee owns 40 percent. Another 10 percent is held by the state-controlled Navoi Mining and Metals Combine.

"While an innocent man's life hangs in the balance, we see only criminal greed and disregard for the rule of law on the part of the Uzbek government," said Robert Amsterdam, legal counsel to Oxus Gold.

Ashurov was detained in March at the Tajik border where he was travelling after the dispute arose due to "the heavy-handed efforts of state officials to force the company into liquidation," the company statement said.

He is sick with a Hepatits B, the company said.

In May, Uzbekistan started an audit of the company's financial activities. However, the company said the audit was not conducted in good faith.

"While Uzbekistan paid lip service to meaningful discussions, its real effort went into launching a campaign of harassment and disinformation to support its expropriation activities," the company said.

Oxus Gold has been operating in Uzbekistan since the mid-1990s, but in March it shut down its gold operations.

© 2011 AFP

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