The celebrity daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman is in the spotlight lately for all the wrong reasons. This weekend Gulnara Karimova hit the headlines again when prosecutors, taxmen and police reportedly opened a probe into her Fund Forum charity.
Radio Ozodlik (Radio Liberty’s Uzbek Service) reported on October 25 that the Prosecutor-General’s Office, State Tax Committee and the Interior Ministry’s department for fighting organized crime have together launched an audit at Karimova’s Fund Forum charity network. They are looking at whether the charity’s foreign currency proceeds were used for their intended purposes.
Karimova was supposed to be above this, enjoying immunity as the daughter of Uzbekistan’s long-time autocrat, Islam Karimov.
Last week, four television channels linked to Karimova went off air for “maintenance issues,” sparking speculation that the media resources she uses to drum up support were under attack.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Karimova, a jewelry designer and self-styled pop star: The blackouts happened as her annual Fund Forum-sponsored Style.uz fashion and art extravaganza opened in Tashkent. Karimova is believed to pressure local and foreign businesses, like a Nordic telecom giant's local subsidiary, Ucell, to channel money into her charities. Ucell sponsored some of the festivities.
The latest attacks on Karimova’s vast business empire underscore that a power struggle appears to be raging in Uzbekistan. Last month, Karimova ended up in a mud-slinging match with her younger sister Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva after Karimova-Tillyaeva distanced herself from her sister and from corruption investigations in Sweden and Switzerland involving Karimova’s associates. Karimova riposted by accusing Karimova-Tillyaeva of making friends with “sorcerers” and of trying to bewitch their mother.
This month, Karimova’s cousin Akbarali Abdullayev, who had been tipped as a potential successor to the president, was detained on suspicion of operating an organized crime ring. He is accused of embezzlement, tax evasion and bribery.
Ozodlik also reported on October 25 that following Abdullayev’s arrest the entire management of his oil refinery had been detained.
There may be no direct link between the Karimova and Abdullayev developments, but they suggest that upstart members of the ruling family are being confronted by powerful foes. The first daughter has likely made herself some enemies: Earlier this year she loudly accused Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov – an influential player also tipped as a potential future president – of corruption.
Karimova has been coy about her own presidential ambitions, but has not denied harboring any. The long-running question of succession is growing urgent as age catches up with her father, who is now 75.