Criminal charges appear to be looming for Gulnara Karimova, the once high-flying daughter of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov. Prosecutors suspect her of involvement in an organized criminal operation that is believed to have bilked the state out of tens of millions of dollars.
A statement naming Karimova as a suspect – issued by Uzbekistan’s general prosecutor’s office on September 8 – is the first official acknowledgement that Karimova, who has been under unofficial house arrest since February, is in legal hot water.
The naming of the president’s daughter as a target of a criminal investigation puts an exclamation point on what has been the spectacular downfall of a woman who once wielded enormous power and controlled a vast business empire in Uzbekistan, now dismantled.
According to the prosecutor’s office, Karimova is suspected of having ties to an organized crime ring run by three former close associates of hers: Rustam Madumarov, Gayane Avakyan, and Nurmukhamad Sodikov. The mafia group allegedly operated between 2011 and 2013, engaging in blackmail and swindling “under the guise of conducting business.” The suspects are accused of siphoning off assets in various enterprises worth some $65 million. That total includes $17 million worth of assets in the Fergana oil refinery, $5 million worth in Coca Cola’s Uzbekistan’s arm (Coca Cola Ichimligi Uzbekiston, which is linked to Karimova through her ex-husband Mansur Maqsudi, who was once an executive in the company), and $43 million in other unnamed enterprises.
The group also acquired state assets at “artificially reduced prices,” the prosecutor’s office alleged, without providing specifics.
Madumarov and Avakyan were jailed earlier this year after a corruption trial. Madumarov was reportedly Karimova’s boyfriend at the time of his arrest in February; Avakyan is an associate who is at the heart of a Swedish investigation into allegedly dubious payments made by Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market, and also is a suspect, along with Karimova, in a money-laundering probe in Switzerland. TeliaSonera, which is also under investigation in the United States and Holland, denies knowingly engaging in criminal activity.
The cases of other, unnamed suspects have been sent to court for trial, the prosecutor’s office said, while further investigations are being conducted concerning the activities of Karimova and five additional suspects. In July, she issued a denial of involvement in corrupt dealings.
The state has seized assets that were under the control of the criminal group worth around $194 million, prosecutors said.
Karimova’s downfall earlier this year followed a high-profile family feud that she pursued vigorously via Twitter, which at one point had her accusing her mother, Tatyana Karimova, and estranged younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, of dabbling in witchcraft.
Karimova has also accused Rustam Inoyatov, the powerful head of the domestic intelligence service, the SNB, of undermining her in a bid to enhance his own political fortunes.
Karimova was placed under unofficial house arrest in Tashkent in February along with her 16-year-old daughter Iman, but has managed to get messages to the international media. In recordings smuggled out last month, copies of which have been obtained by EurasiaNet.org, Karimova complains of being kept in conditions “worse than dogs.” Accusing her guards of committing physical violence and practicing psychological intimidation, she says she has not been able to get a “clear answer” as to why she is being held.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.