Iranian Trucks Auctioned in Turkmenistan

Iranian Trucks Auctioned in TurkmenistanIranian Trucks Auctioned in Turkmenistan

Iranian transit drivers travelling from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat to the city of Mary in the south-east of the country, often pass by trucks with both Turkmen and Iranian license plates. What these drivers might not know is that the trucks once belonged to their fellow compatriots which were seized by the Turkmen government and put for auction without even removing the Iranian license plates.  

Confiscation of Iranian trucks is not new. In 2009 the Turkmen ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry after 76 Iranian trucks were seized in Turkmenistan. But this seems to have done little to prevent auctioning of Iranian trucks indiscriminately “on charges of containing contraband or drugs.”

Even if a driver has breached the law, he should be given a fair trial.

And should drivers, for carrying a few Tramadols, have their trucks confiscated without due process? Visitors and merchants must respect the laws of the host nation, but the punishment for innocuous offences such as possession of certain pharmaceutical drugs is harsh and beyond understanding, a concern voiced repeatedly by truck drivers, transport companies, road ministry and Iranian embassy officials in Ashgabat.

  Arbitrary Rules  

A truck owner who fears confiscation of his $ 85,000 vehicle told the Persian Iran newspaper that the truck regularly traveled the route between Ashgabat and Iran. In the past, taking up to $ 20,000 out of Turkmenistan was sanctioned, but from last November the legal amount was reduced to $ 3,000. The unsuspecting driver who worked for him was subsequently arrested for possessing $25,000. His truck along with the money was seized and the driver jailed. Attempts through the foreign ministry for his release and that of the truck have not yielded results; the truck is his father’s and two brothers’ only means of sustenance.  

Safdar from Golestan Province, whose truck was “confiscated” for possession of a few boxes of cigarettes in 2012, was sentenced to 3 years in prison and was only pardoned and released after the Turkmen president and his Iranian counterpart met at Inche Boroun border point to inaugurate a joint railway project.  

Safdar is now reeling from a loss of his $85,000 truck which he shared with his business partner. ‘’According to Turkmen law every driver arrested has their vehicles seized,” says Safdar. Recalling his time in Turkmen prison when he was detained with 44 inmates, he said there were 32 other drivers, many of whom had had their $233,000-worth trucks confiscated for possessing a few boxes of cigarettes.’’

Hakim, another victim says his truck was seized for containing 93 boxes of cigarettes. He was also released after President Hassan Rouhani met with his Turkmen counterpart. He says even the container of the truck was not returned to him.  In a last-ditch effort he paid $5,000 to a Turkmen citizen to arrange the return of his truck, only to discover that he was a conman.

  Diplomatic Hope

Unfortunately, drivers and even transport companies know very little about the treaties signed between the two nations to combat crime. Mehdi Mighani, transport head of Golestan Province terminals says the Turkmen “have gone too far in their harsh treatment of Iranian drivers.”

‘’We keep telling our drivers to respect the laws of Turkmenistan and we have even educated them in this regard, but it seems that Iranian drivers are strangers to those laws.’’ Nevertheless, he says drivers have no choice but to respect the laws of the country they are doing business with.  Mighani says the agreements have to be honored by the other side. Transport experts say if Turkmenistan, which is dependent upon business transactions with its neighbors including Iran, wants to keep the economic lifeline going in the long run, they will have to address the concerns of Iranian authorities.