Uzbek bank robbers labour for tiny haul

Detail of an Uzbekistan 5,000 som noteImage copyright

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The 5,000 som note is Uzbekistan’s highest denomination bill

A bank robbery in Uzbekistan’s western Khorezm region appears to have exposed the parlous state of some financial institutions in the country.

While the sum of 16,131,000 Uzbek soms might seem a lot, especially when the criminal gang had to load the cash into their van in 45 sacks, their haul turned out to be worth only $2,600 (£1,800) on current black market rates, US government-backed Radio Ozodlik reports. According to local officials, the gang broke a window to gain access to the branch of Mikrokredit Bank in Bog’ot and smashed safes to get hold of their bulky yet small fortune. The suspects, who reportedly include a former security guard at the bank, were subsequently arrested, and now face up to 16 years in prison.

The major problem for anybody carrying cash in Uzbekistan is that the largest denomination note is the 5,000 som bill, worth $1.73 (£1.20) on official currency markets, but trading for as little as 80 cents on the black market. Low value coins and banknotes are virtually worthless, and the bank raid would have comprised of many thousands of notes.

A local businessman told Radio Ozodlik that the episode shows how poor some Uzbek banks are, as well as the benefits of carrying any other currency than the som: “A gang attacks one bank, breaks its window and safes. But their fortune is just 2,500 dollars. It’s a joke – I have the same amount of money in my pocket.” The CA-News website says that due to the absence of cash in the country, companies in Uzbekistan complain that they cannot get money from banks to pay their employees. Pensions have also been delayed, and citizens experience difficulties accessing bank remittances sent to them by relatives abroad.

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