Dmitriy Romanovich Li is an Uzbek national of Korean descent born 1976. He is a senior politician in the ‘New Uzbekistan’ of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to whom he is widely seen as a close figure. He is particularly well connected to the president’s eldest daughter, Saida Mirziyoyeva, for whom he is a trusted confidant.
In 2017, Mirziyoyev appointed Li deputy director of NAPP, a newly founded presidential agency responsible for the transparency and efficiency of state procurement and investment projects which include NMMC, the large Uzbek gold mine.
Dmitriy Li is currently chairman of NAPP, which is also the regulator of Uzbekistan’s embryonic crypto market. Decentralized finance is a fast-growing area of Uzbek business, which Mirziyoyev expects to showcase the country’s liberal economic transformation since he took over from the late Islam Karimov in 2016.
According to Uzbek media, there may be another side to Li’s personal oversight of the crypto market: he has thought to have family ties to Kobea Group, the South Korean company that runs Uzbekistan’s sole cryptocurrency exchange (Uznex), via its owners Charles Lee and Chang-Kwon Lee. Uznex has been online since November 2022 after Li granted Kobea its license and NAPP blocked Binance, Kraken and FTX from operating in Uzbekistan. This gave Kobea a countrywide monopoly, despite President Mirziyoyev’s commitment to a free market.
This scheme follows on from earlier corruption cases in which Li was implicated. As deputy director of NAPP, he allegedly siphoned off UzbekTelecom state funding for internet services in Uzbekistan, which are notoriously slow. According to reporting on the matter, Li turned a blind eye at NAPP and removed employees both there and at UzbekTelecom who attempted to stop the scheme, which brought in tens of millions of USD in illicit revenue for himself and his co-conspirator, businessman Rasul Sharipov.
Around the same time, Li reportedly helped carry out procurement fraud in the Ministry of Health’s acquisition of medical equipment from General Electric, which was approved by NAPP. The real value of these goods was USD 3 million, but the amount was inflated to USD 6 million, with the other half paid in kickbacks.
Meanwhile, Li has known Saida Mirziyoyeva for several years, since their work together in the education sector before Li joined NAPP. Saida is a major player on the Uzbek political scene where she has been expanded her power in recent years, building up a coterie of trusted figures in key positions. These include Li as well as Komil Allamzhonov, the deputy head of her father’s presidential administration responsible for keeping the country’s media sphere in line.
Li is close to Saida’s husband, Oybek Tursunov, an Uzbek-Korean businessman who is from an influential family himself. His father, Batyr Tursunov, is described as Uzbekistan’s ‘grey cardinal’ and is first deputy director of its main intelligence agency, the SGB.
The Tursunovs are said to have used their marriage into the ruling family to advance their interests and accumulate assets, such as Uzbekistan’s most popular payment system, UzCard. According to domestic media, Oybek and his brother Ulugbek provide political cover for corruption schemes involving the supply of equipment to NMMC and another large state mine, AMMC. It is Oybek who allegedly represents Li’s main source of political cover in the Uzbek elite for his own dubious schemes.