How a $51-million State-Built Beauty Clinic in Turkmenistan Ended Up in the Hands of the President’s Family at a Massive Discount

The Turkmen government built a state-of-the-art beauty clinic for $51 million. But just before the opening, it was secretly privatized and sold at a huge discount to a company connected to the president’s family.

Key Findings

  • Days before the opening of the beauty clinic in 2020, Turkmenistan’s former President and current National Leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov issued a decree allowing it to be sold to a private company.
  • The buyer’s shareholders included two companies controlled by the president’s family members.
  • In local currency, the sale price gave the buyers a discount of $6.5 million at the inflated official exchange rate, and tens of millions of dollars at the widely available black market rate.
  • The clinic is run by Gulya Annanepesova, a doctor who accompanied the former president on official trips and worked with his sister.

At the southern end of Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat stands the city’s brand new $51 million Aesthetics Center.

Towering over the surrounding streets, the building’s top section resembles a giant glass hand mirror. For the center’s grand opening, a portrait was installed of the man who ordered it to be built: then-president and current “National Leader” Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Though Berdimuhamedov was succeeded by his son Serdar last year, his influence is still felt across the country. The Aesthetics Center, paid for with government funds, officially opened in October 2020, with Berdimuhamedov himself in attendance.

The new facility was equipped with “innovative technologies from the leading companies of the world,” and offered a range of cosmetic services, from weight loss courses to hairstyling, as well as training courses, according to state media. Photographs online show lavish interiors, with floors and columns apparently fashioned from marble, illuminated by intricate lighting fixtures.

Credit: EC Lighting Design Studio (Facebook) Screenshot of an interior image of the Aesthetics Center in Ashgabat.

Unknown to the public, however, the president had signed another decree allowing the new center to be privatized without a competitive tender just two days before the grand opening.

For the first time, an investigation by OCCRP and local partners Turkmen.News and Gundogar reveals not only that the center was privatized, but that the sale appears to have benefited the president’s own family.

The center’s buyer was a company called the Ashgabat International Aesthetic Treatment Center Aşgabat halkara estetiki bejeriş merkezi ÝGPJ (AIATC), whose shareholders include companies that reporters have in previous investigations identified as fronts for the president’s relatives, and whose manager has traveled with the president and worked with one of his sisters.

Despite costing $51 million to build, the president set the center’s sale price at 155,750,000 Turkmen manats, worth about $44.5 million at the official exchange rate. It was therefore sold at a loss to the state of $6.5 million. AIATC was given ten years to pay for the center.

The real discount reaped by the new owners may be much higher, thanks to Turkmenistan’s widely used unofficial exchange rate, which was 23.6 manats per dollar at the time of the decree. At that rate, the center would have cost just $6.6 million — nearly 90 percent less than its building cost.

The official exchange rate of 3.5 manats per dollar was established by the Central Bank of Turkmenistan in 2015 and has remained unchanged since then. AIATC and Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is kleptocracy pure and simple,” said Tom Mayne, the director of Freedom for Eurasia, a Vienna-based NGO that works on corruption and human rights issues, after reviewing a summary of the findings.

“Turkmenistan does not have a system of privatization that resembles anything that occurs in a place of rule of law, where rival companies bid for a contract or asset in a competitive selection process,” he said.

Previous OCCRP investigations have revealed how members of the ruling family have benefited from petrochemicals exports, state contracts to import food, and from the privatization of the state cell phone operator.

The services offered by the Aesthetics Center appear to be at odds with an informal campaign waged periodically by officials against heavy make-up, plastic surgery, and any clothing that fails to meet authorities’ conception of traditional national dress. Since 2018, women who have failed to comply with these standards have often been harassed or even fired.

At a UN committee session in August, Turkmenistan’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hajiyev denied that the campaign constituted an assault on women’s rights. As proof that women were free to maintain their own appearances, he cited the members of his own delegation as examples of “beautifully groomed” Turkmen women.

The following week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen outlet Azatlyk reported that police in the city of Turkmenbashi were detaining and interrogating women for wearing false eyelashes, false nails, and skirts that were deemed too short or tight.

The New Owners

According to a leaked membership database of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan (UIET) from February, AIATC is owned by a group of seven other legal entities registered in the country.

A review of corporate records showed that two of the Turkmen entities that own AIATC have connections to the ruling family.

The first is Ak Rovach Ak rowaç HK , which is registered as a “trade” company in the UIET database. In 2021, a manager at Ak Rovach told reporters the company was the Turkmen representative of Delanore Limited, an oil and chemicals exporter owned by former President Berdimuhamedov’s nephew, Shamyrat Rejepov. Shamyrat is also married to his own first cousin, the daughter of Berdimuhamedov’s sister Gulnabat Dovletova. Rejepov did not respond to requests for comment.

The UIET database shows that, at least as recently as February, Ak Rovach was run by a man named Amanguly Ataniyazov. Using an app which shows how a phone number is labeled in other people’s contact lists, reporters found that Ataniyazov is often listed as Shamyrat Rejepov’s employee.

The second company is Nurana Bedew HK, run by Rustam Berkdurdiyev. His brother Ibabekir is married to another of Dovletova’s daughters. Berkdurdiyev did not respond to requests for comment.

Nurana Bedew, which was founded in 2013, has been involved in a range of industries, including importing retail pharmaceuticals, exporting materials used for asphalt to neighboring Uzbekistan, and reportedly owning an Akhal-Teke breed racing horse.

The remaining shareholders include a construction company and an Ashgabat law firm, and do not appear to be connected to the president — or, for the most part, to aesthetic medicine. Just one company, Convenience, Durability and Beauty Amatlylyk, berklik we gözellik HJ , appeared from its name to have a connection to the industry — but, according to the UIET database its name was changed to Sadak HJ last year.

🔗How Reporters Obtained Turkmenistan Company Data

Turkmenistan does not make its commercial registry publicly available. All of the shareholder information in this investigation comes from a leaked database of members of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan (UIET).

The UIET, which claims to promote the interests of small and medium-sized local businesses, is actually tightly controlled by the state. According to two members who spoke on condition of anonymity, membership in the union is informally required for the right to engage in foreign trade or to apply for government tenders.

“Without membership [in the union], there’s nothing,” one Turkmen businessman told OCCRP. “Like back in the Soviet times — there was no career advancement without membership in the party.”

Founded in 2008, the Union’s website states that its members come from nearly every sector of the economy — from agriculture and producing construction materials to advertising and shoe manufacturing. The Union itself runs its own business school and a newspaper while maintaining trade missions in China, Austria, and the UAE.

The Clinic’s Director

While AIATC bought the center, the clinic is actually operated by a different locally registered company called Beauty Aesthetic Center Gözellik estetiki merkezi HK , directed by a doctor named Gulya Annanepesova.

Although the director of AIATC is not named in the UIET database, it does show the director’s date of birth, passport information, and address, and a telephone number. Apart from the phone number, all of this biographical information matches Annanepesova’s — suggesting that she runs both companies.

Credit: EC Lighting Design Studio (Facebook) Screenshot of an image from the Aesthetics Center in Ashgabat.

Little is known about Annanepesova, but she accompanied then-President Berdimuhamedov on at least two state visits — to Qatar in March 2017 and Italy in November 2019. In lists of the full delegations, Annanepesova is listed as a cosmetologist or a doctor. Annanepesova did not respond to requests for comment.

The National Leader has decorated Annanepesova at least twice. In October 2016, she was awarded a medal during the 25th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence. At the time, Annanepesova was employed as a doctor at a state-run hospital, the International Center for Internal Medicine, where her co-workers included a nurse who is Berdimuhamedov’s second youngest sister.

About a year after the Aesthetics Center opened, Berdimuhamedov again honored Annanepesova, this time with a commemorative badge for her services in the development of Turkmenistan’s healthcare industry. In the list of recipients, she was identified as the director of Beauty Aesthetic Center.

A source who knows the family personally said that Annanepesova is married to a man who has played a key role in Turkmenistan’s draconian internet censorship apparatus: Maksat Geldiyev. The source said that Geldiyev worked at the Ministry of National Security’s “Department 8,” which reportedly handles cyber censorship. A second, independent source corroborated the claim.

Reporters attempting to verify the claim found that a phone number registered to Maksat Geldiyev in 2015 was registered in a 2020 database to another person whose surname and patronymic suggested he was Geldiyev’s son. Reporters found that this person shared a home address with Gulya Annanepesova.

Geldiyev did not respond to requests for comment.

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