Less than a week after news broke that Gulnara Karimova, the image-conscious daughter of Uzbekistan’s long-serving strongman, had lost her post as ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, she was home courting fans and drubbing a potential rival.
In a blog entry posted July 20, Karimova described her recent trip to the distressed market town of Kokand in the Fergana Valley. As she’s done previously to win sympathy with potential supporters, there Karimova championed small businesses. But she went further, using the opportunity to attack Rustam Azimov, the first deputy prime minister and finance minister – a man often mooted as a potential successor to her father, President Islam Karimov.
“Looking at the ads and signboards, you understand that you’re in a trading city, although the old posters and billboards that have been hanging there for ten years are a telltale sign that trade was more boisterous before the super financial regulator at the ministries of economy and finance introduced excise and other operational super limitations,” Karimova wrote in a clear reference to Azimov.
It’s becoming impossible to ignore the impression that Karimova, 41, is campaigning to succeed her 75-year-old father. Karimov, who has run Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before the country became independent from the Soviet Union, has offered no indication he plans to leave office when his term ends in January 2015. But his jet-setting daughter, long discussed as potential heir, has recently started gathering her strength for what looks like a showdown. The only catch is that she doesn’t have the domestic power base of someone like Azimov.
Nevertheless, this is not the first time Karimova has taken on Azimov recently. This spring she complained on her blog that Azimov's work on renewable energy is "far from transparent" and claimed that Azimov's fortune stood at $4 billion.
Karimova is probably the only person in the country who can throw about allegations like that and get away with it.
The funny thing is how familiar they sound. The aspiring pop-diva and fashion designer has been linked to two separate corruption investigations in recent months: Her name features prominently in a graft probe involving Scandinavian telecoms giant TeliaSonera as well as a separate money-laundering case in Switzerland. (TeliaSonera denies any criminal wrongdoing.) In 2010, Der Spiegel estimated her fortune at $570 million.
Last autumn, Karimova pointedly did not deny presidential ambitions during a giggly, pre-recorded interview with a celebrity Las Vegas publicist who dubbed her the “Princess of Uzbekistan.” Whatever happened in Geneva, Karimova has landed without diplomatic immunity at home, where she appears to be marking her turf.