Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of late Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, died of poisoning on November 5, Central Asian news website Centre1.com reported on November 22, citing an anonymous source at the Uzbek security services.
The reports could not be verified. Karimova has not been seen in public since 2014 when she fell out with her father. No official statement by the Uzbek authorities has been released.
Moreover, Karimova’s Twitter account has been active with one of her latest posts mocking the news of her alleged death on November 22. RFE/RL, however, suggests the Twitter account is fake as it only appeared in October 2016 and posts photos taken two and three years ago.
Karimova, 44, once the wealthiest woman in the former Soviet Union, was seen as her father's natural successor. She however fell out of favour with her father and was reportedly placed under house arrest in 2014 amid corruption allegations. The scandal involved telecommunications operators TeliaSonera, Russian VimpelCom and MTS, who have been accused of bribing entities connected to Karimova to win licences to operate in the Uzbek mobile market.
Earlier reports suggested Gulnara was shut away in a psychiatric hospital, while others claimed she was held under house arrest. A Twitter account called ShowMeGulnara appeared in October, demanding that Karimova shows proof she is still alive, following her failure to show up for her father's funeral in Samarkand in September. The account has since been suspended.
Centre1.com claims Karimova was buried at a local graveyard titled “Minor” in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent. “According to the source, he personally took part in the funeral, and decided to have a phone chat with us because of a fear for her children's destiny,” the report reads. Gulnara married US businessman, Mansur Maqsudi, who ran a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Tashkent. She has two children, one of whom was named Islam, after her father.
The fact that she had fallen from grace with her father long before his death excluded her from the list of Karimov’s potential successors so she could not have posed a threat to acting President Shavkhat Mirziyoyev. Still, the reports about her death emerge shortly before the December 4 presidential elections.
Mirziyoyev is believed to be the favourite to win the elections. In the run-up to the vote, Mirziyoyev has been busy reshuffling the government in a clear sign he wants to make a clean break with the legacy of Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since 1991 until his death earlier this year.
Mirziyoyev has also been focusing on improving the country’s business climate. In October, the acting president announced a decree aimed at providing legal guarantees to “drastically reduce interference” by the government in the activities of businesses. Starting from January 1, the decree abolishes all unscheduled inspections of activities of business entities and any counter-checking of such activities.
On the other hand, the changes might be merely empty promises by Mirziyoyev to ramp-up his own popularity ahead of the elections. The tightly controlled country is known for announcing ambitious programmes and never following up on them.