Swiss prosecutor says Uzbekistan’s disgraced Karimova ran criminal organisation known as ‘The Office’ in vast conspiracy of telecoms bribe-taking

By bne IntelIiNews September 28, 2023

Switzerland's federal prosecutor on September 28 filed an indictment against Gulnara Karimova, the disgraced daughter of Uzbekistan's former president Islam Karimov, accusing her of taking bribes and running an elaborate criminal organisation known as "The Office" in a vast conspiracy of organised crime.

Karimova, 51—whose father ruled Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016 and who at various times was a diplomat, celebrity and business woman—allegedly led an operation that channelled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bribes from telecoms companies.

Presently in prison in Uzbekistan after being jailed in 2019 for violating the terms of her house arrest—which was ordered by an Uzbek court after she was handed a five-year sentence in 2015 on charges of embezzlement and extortion—has denied the allegations.

Money was funnelled through bank accounts in several countries prior to being transferred to accounts in Switzerland, according to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

"The beneficial owners of these bank accounts were 'men of straw', thereby concealing the fact that Gulnara Karimova was the true beneficiary," the OAG said.

Eyewatering sums were, it is claimed involved. More than 340mn Swiss francs ($370mn) has already been confiscated with a view to it being returned to Uzbekistan. Assets worth more than 440mn francs remain under seizure in the proceedings against Karimova and another accused, who is a former general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecoms company not named in the indictment.

Reuters reported Karimova’s Swiss lawyer Gregoire Mangeat as saying his client was contesting the charges and would fight for her acquittal.

"The criminal organisation theory is totally disputed," he was cited as saying, adding: "It was pulled out of a hat by the Swiss Prosecutors only a year ago, 10 years after the start of their investigation."

Karimova led a criminal organisation known as "The Office" from at least 2001 until 2013, according to the OAG, which said it comprised of several dozen people and a large number of companies that operated its criminal activities as a professional business, while also using violence and intimidation.

The indictment outlines the allegation that foreign companies that desired to operate in Uzbekistan's telecoms sector had to bribe Karimova.

The case has been filed to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.

Last week, the UN mission in Tashkent announced that assets of Karimova retrieved by the Uzbek state would be used to finance work in reducing child mortality.

In August, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office confiscated luxury properties worth $25.5mn that belonged to Karimova. In March, a Freedom For Eurasia report found that Karimova spent $240mn obtained from bribery and corruption on properties from London to Hong Kong. In reporting the study, the BBC noted how Karimova used UK companies to buy homes and a jet, with accounting firms in London and the British Virgin Islands acting for the firms involved in the deals.

Karimova’s colourful time in the celebrity world included her moonlighting as a pop star with the stage name "Googoosha". She is also a former Uzbek ambassador to Spain. 

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