Gulnara Karimova, the once powerful daughter of Uzbekistan's authoritarian President Islam Karimov, is under investigation for allegedly being part of an organised crime ring suspected of defrauding the state of millions of dollars.
Uzbek prosecutors' announcement that Karimova is under investigation effectively removes any chance that the so-called "princess of Uzbekistan" will succeed her ageing father, who has ruled the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and could mean that she will end up in one of Uzbekistan's notorious prisons. It may also intensify the fierce succession battle within the country’s elite.
Uzbekistan's Prosecutor General's Office said in a press release on September 8 that Karimova - a businesswoman, philanthropist, former permanent representative at the UN, jewellery designer and pop diva - is under investigation for alleged membership of an organised crime ring that had been involved in “systematic" economic crimes through blackmail and extortion and falsifications of documents in 2011-2013. The ring, Uzbek prosecutors said, fraudulently got hold of state stakes in the Uzbekistan Airways national carrier, the Coca-Cola Ichimligi Uzbekistan joint venture, Fergana oil refiner and other enterprises worth a total of UZS159.5bn ($72m at the official exchange rate).
The prosecutors said two other members of the ring, Rustam Madumarov and Gayane Avakyan, were sentenced under Clause 3 of Article 165 of Uzbekistan's Criminal Code for extortion and other crimes on May 24. The extortion charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment. Madumarov, a former pop singer, is said to be Karimova's boyfriend. Avakyan, her business associate, is under investigation in Sweden into bribes the Scandinavian telecommunications group TeliaSonera allegedly paid to Avakyan's Gibraltar-registered company in order to enter the Uzbek telecom market. Chief Executive Officer Lars Nyberg of TeliaSonera, which operates under the UCell brand in Uzbekistan, resigned over the allegations in February 2013. Swiss prosecutors are also investigating Avakyan and Karimova for alleged money laundering.
Karimova has not yet been charged, but Uzbek prosecutors said criminal cases against most members of the organised crime ring had now been sent to court, and separate criminal probes had been launched against certain members of the ring, including Karimova, about whom "all the necessary testimonials have not yet been collected". "After the completion of the investigation, rigorous adherence to the principle of inevitability of punishment for each member of the organised crime group will be ensured," prosecutors said in the press release.
Last year Karimova - who was named "the single most hated person in the country" and a “robber baron" in a 2005 US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks - engaged in a Twitter war with her mother Tatyana, younger sister Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, and Rustam Inoyatov, chief of Uzbekistan's notorious SNB security service. Karimova was also involved in a public spat with First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov. Karimova accused her mother and sister of practising sorcery and Inoyatov of attempting to seize power in the country. Azimov, perhaps Uzbekistan's most favoured official in the West, was accused of possessing billions of dollars and imposing financial restrictions on businesses.
Karimova's public clashes with her family and Uzbekistan's most influential figures were seen as a sign of her political ambition to succeed her father. The clashes were sparked of by the release of an interview with Karimova with the Las Vegas-based celebrity interviewer Peter Allman, recorded in autumn 2012 and released in March 2013.
The website of Muhamad Solih, President Karimov's Islamic rival in the 1991 presidential election, claimed that Karimova had fallen out of favour after Inoyatov showed Karimov a SNB dossier of her "criminal deeds" and her "half-naked photos". The website claimed the compromising material had so outraged Karimov that he beat up his daughter.
Following the incident Karimova was stripped of her business and media empire and charity networks. Since February, Karimova and her 16-year-old daughter Iman have been under house arrest in Tashkent, though in August Karimova managed to smuggle out audio recordings to the BBC in which she claimed that she and her daughter were being treated "worse than dogs" and were suffering physical and psychological abuse.
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