Switzerland's Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is investigating Gulnara Karimova, the scandal-embroiled eldest daughter of Uzbekistan's strongman president Islam Karimov, on suspicion of money laundering, it said on March 12. The news comes as another blow to Karimova, who has been embroiled in a public feud with powerful rivals in Uzbekistan since last fall.
The OAG statement said that Karimova had come under suspicion following the arrest in July 2012 of two Uzbek nationals in Geneva and the subsequent opening of a money-laundering probe in Switzerland targeting four Karimova associates.
Karimova could not at the time be made a suspect because of the “diplomatic immunity she benefited from until last summer,” the OAG said. She was made a formal suspect on September 16, after losing her immunity last July along with her post as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva.
The money-laundering probe is focused on “acts presumed illicit having taken place in the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan,” which are considered the “initial breaches” of the law in the Swiss money-laundering case, the statement added.
That refers to a corruption probe under way in Sweden into the affairs of Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera. Swedish investigators are scrutinizing payments of around $330 million made to a small offshore company run by Karimova associate Gayane Avakyan (widely reported to be a target in the Swiss money-laundering case) to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market.
TeliaSonera acknowledges making the payments but denies any wrongdoing in the affair, which has sparked the resignation of its CEO and the dismissal of four senior executives. A sum of over 800m Swiss francs ($911m) has been frozen in the money-laundering case, the OAG said. In a report on the case published on March 12, Swiss newspaper Le Temps said that of that sum 500m francs are believed to be funds paid by TeliaSonera to Avakyan’s company and the rest is thought to be Karimova’s assets. The tentacles of what looks like “a vast international corruption affair” now reach into more than 10 countries, including Norway and The Netherlands, Le Temps added.
The news of her indictment comes as Karimova is under heavy pressure in Uzbekistan, where her associates, including Avakyan, were summoned for questioning by prosecutors last month as part of a criminal investigation into tax evasion and concealing foreign currency.
Karimova has used Twitter to fight her corner amid a bitter feud that erupted last fall with her sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, and Rustam Inoyatov, the head of Uzbekistan’s SNB domestic intelligence service. But her Twitter account has been silent for over three weeks. Another account tweeting in her support, called Free Gulnara (SOS), said in its last tweet on March 1 that “[Karimova] and her daughter are held under house arrest by the SNB, they have no way to communicate.”