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CAPITAL MARKETS

Foreign investors eye Uzbekistan’s banking sector

The opening up of central Asia’s largest market after a decade of isolation has sparked intense interest in its underdeveloped banking sector among fund managers and regional groups alike.

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For long-time watchers of central and eastern Europe, the opening up of Uzbekistan has been one of the biggest and most welcome surprises of the last three years.

As the largest market in central Asia, with a rapidly growing population of 32 million and a wealth of natural resources, the country has always been on investors’ radar. Under the 25-year rule of former president Islam Karimov, however, and particularly in the decade before his death in September 2016, it was largely off limits to outsiders.

Even those undeterred by Karimov’s atrocious human rights record and his increasing pursuit of diplomatic isolation were eventually put off by his habit of reneging on commitments, renationalizing assets and giving his friends and family free rein to plunder the economy.

When he died, there was little expectation of rapid change – particularly as his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, had served under him as prime minister for 13 years. For once, however, expectations were confounded. Karimov was barely in the ground before Mirziyoyev set about dismantling his legacy.