ABC News’ Felicia Patinkin reports:
Miss Uzbekistan Rakhima Ganieva, with her long dark hair and 1000-watt smile, seems like the perfect ambassador for her country in this month’s Miss World pageant.
The only problem? The Uzbekistan government says Ganieva, 18, is a fraud.
While a video of Ganieva shows the English-speaking, tennis and piano-playing teen saying she won the title of Miss Uzbekistan on July 20, the Uzbekistan government says there was never a Miss Uzbekistan contest and they do not know who Ganieva is. That revelation came this week from officials with the Uzbek Culture and Sports Ministry and the national committee on women in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The news network also spoke with a representative from a modeling agency where Ganieva once trained who accused her of “choosing to build a career on lies.”
“Rakhima Ganieva never passed through any special selection process in Uzbekistan,” said Zhavlon Komolov of the Pro Models modeling agency. “If there had been a process to choose a young lady for this competition, I can assure you that a much more beautiful model would have been chosen.”
The controversy over Ganieva’s eligibility is brewing just as the 131 Miss World hopefuls from around the globe gather in Indonesia to compete for the crown. The finals will be held on Sept. 28.
ABC News was not able to reach Ganieva for comment.
The Miss World pageant heralds Ganieva on its website as the first contestant to represent Miss Uzbekistan in its history. Her bio on the website concurs with her video, claiming that she won the title in an event held on July 20.
“We get around 100,000 entries a year worldwide,” a Miss World spokeswoman told ABC News in a statement. “Some countries hold auditions in order to find their finalists, some countries operate a reality-style program and others use a more traditional system of local heats leading to finals. Many of the competitions are nationally televised.”
While the story is making headlines around the globe, pageant watchers in the U.S., which just crowned its new Miss America, say the idea of someone winning a crown without a formal contest is not that surprising.
“In some of these countries, it is a selection process where they will not compete against other women, [but] a producer or promoter will choose someone to go and represent that country,” Carl Dunn, CEO of Pageantry magazine, told ABC News.