Amid reports that two close associates of Gulnara Karimova, the embattled daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman president Islam Karimov, have been jailed, a man claiming to represent her family has denied allegations of her involvement in bribery and money-laundering in Europe. The spokesman suggests the root of her troubles could be political infighting ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“There has been no proof to back up any of the claims made against Gulnara Karimova,” the spokesman – who works for a recognizable London-based communications firm, but insists that neither he nor the firm be identified – said in the statement, sent to EurasiaNet.org by email on July 14.
“However,” he continued, “given her relationship to the president of Uzbekistan, we cannot ignore the likelihood of these allegations against Gulnara Karimova being politically motivated ahead of the forthcoming 2015 elections.”
Karimova, a one-time powerful player previously tipped as a possible successor to her father, has reportedly been under house arrest in Tashkent since February. This follows a vitriolic family feud with her mother, Tatyana Karimova, and younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.
As well as her mother and sister, Karimova has blamed Rustam Inoyatov, the head of Uzbekistan’s domestic intelligence service (known as the SNB), for her woes. In an interview with Russia’s REN TV last month, her son (called Islam after his grandfather) blamed unnamed “powerful” figures for arranging the detention of his mother and 16-year-old sister Iman in Tashkent.
Two of Karimova’s associates arrested at the time she was placed under house arrest – Rustam Madumarov (reportedly her boyfriend) and Gayane Avakyan – have now been handed long jail terms on corruption charges, according to July 14 reports from the BBC’s Uzbek Service and RFE/RL, which both quoted unnamed sources.
Madumarov received a 10-year sentence and Avakyan was sentenced to nine years but will serve six, the BBC reported. RFE/RL said Madumarov had been jailed for six-and-a-half years and Avakyan for six.
Calls to Uzbekistan’s General-Prosecutor’s Office to confirm the reports went unanswered on July 14. The Prosecutor’s Office had announced the arrests of Madumarov and Avakyan on charges of tax evasion, concealing foreign currency, and other economic crimes in February.
Avakyan is at the heart of two linked corruption inquiries in Europe: a money-laundering investigation in Switzerland in which Karimova is a formal suspect, and a graft probe in Sweden involving suspicious payments made by Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera (which is also under investigation in the United States and the Netherlands) to enter Uzbekistan’s telecommunications market.
The spokesman for Karimova’s family denied that she had been involved in financial impropriety in Uzbekistan or Europe.
“She has never been a director shareholder, nor beneficial owner, of any of the companies allegedly involved in the issue of mobile telecom licenses, which are at the center of the allegations,” the statement said. “Nor has Gulnara Karimova ever been empowered to grant telecom licenses.”
The statement quoted law firm Byrne and Partners (which it said had been instructed on behalf of Karimova) as saying it had contacted the Swiss authorities “to understand the allegations and [we] have received no information to date.”
Karimova’s downfall has been interpreted as the result of a power struggle playing out in Uzbekistan, which has gained momentum as Karimov approaches the end of his current presidential term.
An election is scheduled for March 2015. The 76-year-old president – who is constitutionally ineligible to stand but has stayed in power for over two decades through various constitutional sleights of hand – has given no indication of whether he plans to stand again.