With the aroma of money-laundering lingering around Gulnara Karimova, what better time for the designer-cum-pop diva to introduce her latest venture – fragrances for men and women?
On October 8, Googoosha, as she likes to be known, unveiled to the world Mysterieuse and Victorious. French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour created the scents for Karimova's GULI brand.
But upstaging her latest triumph, fresh allegations have surfaced linking Karimova, eldest daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, to Uzbek businessman Alisher Ergashev, who is currently being held in Switzerland in a money-laundering probe. On October 11, Radio Free Europe produced documents signed by the pair for property purchases in France.
Last week, we reported on alleged links between the Karimov family and Bekhzod Akhmedov, former director of the recently seized Uzbekistan subsidiary of Russian cellphone company MTS. Akhmedov fled the country following a row between MTS and the government. His disappearance sparked the Swiss investigation after Tashkent put him on Interpol's wanted list. Oops.
As investigators close in on the Karimov clan, perhaps Mysterieuse will throw them off the trail. It’s a fragrance for the “sensuous Eastern woman,” evoking, as Duchaufour puts it, "the smells of all the flowers you can find in the East." Victorious, "is meant for strong men."
It’s cotton-picking time in Uzbekistan. Each fall, hundreds of thousands of students (from grade school to university) are press-ganged into leaving the classroom and heading to the cotton fields. The government denies it, of course, but it’s basically state policy and has been well documented. Human rights activists have long drawn attention to the situation, urging clothing companies to boycott Uzbek cotton.
Radio Free Europe has an upsetting – though not particularly surprising – related story today. In Uzbekistan’s southern Shahrisabz district, it appears police may have beaten a teenager to death for not picking cotton. The full story:
An Uzbek official says several people have been detained over the death of a teenager who was allegedly beaten by police officers last week.
An official in Uzbekistan's southern Shahrisabz district told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on condition of anonymity on October 10 that a total of 24 people, including several police officers, have been questioned in connection to the case.
The official said some of them have been detained.
The official also said that authorities haven't yet received forensic examination results to establish the cause of the death of 18-year-old Navruz Islomov, who reportedly died of his injuries in hospital on October 6.
Local residents say police officers beat Islomov after he decided to leave early from the field where he was picking cotton because he was feeling unwell.
As Swiss and Swedish investigators probe allegations of corruption and money-laundering involving Uzbekistan, one name is increasingly appearing linked to the cases: Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of strongman President Islam Karimov.
Leaked documents (whose authenticity is not confirmed) relating to the Swiss money-laundering inquiry suggest that investigators have identified the suspect at the heart of the probe as an associate of Karimova’s and designated the case politically sensitive.
A French-language letter (carried by regional news site Centrasia.ru) purportedly sent by anti-laundering investigators to the Swiss Office of the Attorney General suggests the Uzbek government -- perhaps inadvertently -- sparked the money-laundering probe that is now coming uncomfortably close to Karimova.
The letter states that the probe was launched after investigators received notification from Geneva-based bank Lombard Odier (acting under its legal obligations) that one of its clients was on the Interpol wanted list for alleged fraud.
That client was Bekhzod Akhmedov, former director of the Uzbekistan subsidiary of Russian cellphone company MTS. Tashkent declared him wanted after he fled the country amid a row between the firm and the government that culminated with Tashkent seizing MTS’s assets this summer.
Uzbekistan is facing a second corruption investigation in Europe, as Swedish police open a graft probe into claims that Swedish-Finnish telecoms giant TeliaSonera paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes for the rights to operate in Uzbekistan. The case is allegedly linked to a money-laundering investigation in Switzerland.
TeliaSonera (whose largest shareholders are the Swedish and Finnish states) said that Swedish police are investigating allegations of “bribes and money laundering” involving Uzbekistan. The allegations surfaced in a September 19 documentary on Swedish broadcaster SVT.
“We can confirm that the Swedish police has collected information from TeliaSonera regarding Uzbekistan,” TeliaSonera – which owns the Ucell mobile phone company in Uzbekistan – said in a statement on September 26. It said that the company had already announced an external review “regarding the allegations of bribes and money laundering” and that now the Swedish Prosecuting Authorities’ anti-corruption unit had launched its own probe, “which we welcome.”
TeliaSonera has denied any wrongdoing but pledged to “cooperate fully” with the Swedish investigation, which follows SVT’s allegations that the firm paid hundreds of millions of dollars to “a small, one-woman company in a tax haven” for the rights to operate in Uzbekistan. The company, Takilant Limited, is run out of Gibraltar by Uzbekistan national Gayane Avakyan.
Over the past few years, military aid has taken up an increasingly large portion of total U.S. aid to Central Asia, from around 5 percent throughout the 1990s to more than 30 percent since 2007. But that aid hasn't been closely examined, a situation I attempt to rectify in a new report (pdf), "U.S. Military Aid to Central Asia: Who Beneﬁts?" The report focuses on aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Among the findings:
-- U.S. training and equipping aid focuses on special forces, including OMON and Alfas, and on occasions when those forces may have acted in ways contrary to stated U.S. interests, U.S. officials have tended to not take an active role in investigating those incidents and continue to support those units.
-- The pattern of aid shows a clear pattern in which the aid increases when Afghanistan is a high priority in Washington, right after the September 11, 2001 attacks and in 2007-8, when U.S. focus again began to turn from Iraq to Afghanistan. That (among other evidence) suggests the aid is intended less as assistance for Central Asian security forces, than as a form of payment for those countries' cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.
-- U.S. claims that the aid is intended to foster the promotion of human rights by Central Asian security forces has been undercut by the decision to resume military aid to Uzbekistan. “It makes the people mad that we do anything with them. They say, ‘Really? Here [in Kyrgyzstan] you talk about human rights, they’re [in Uzbekistan] not so good at it,’” said a U.S. military official currently working on security cooperation with Central Asia. “The desire
to work with people outweighs the desire to do the right thing sometimes.”
President Islam Karimov has signed a law that promises to do something new in Uzbekistan: “On the defense of private property and guarantee of the rights of owners.”
“Every entrepreneur should know that he can without fear invest in his own business, expand production activities, increase production and generate income [...] keeping in mind that the government is guarding the legal rights of the property owner,” Karimov said two years ago when proposing the law.
The new law, signed on September 24, even has a special section on the rights of foreign businesses in Uzbekistan.
Try telling that to Russian mobile giant MTS.
In June, Uzbek authorities began investigating senior officials at MTS for tax evasion and money laundering. Within two months, the company’s entire Uzbekistan operation was seized, 9.5 million users were left without service, and the company was forced to write off $1 billion. MTS denies wrongdoing and observers believe the company was simply plundered by well-connected Tashkent elites.
She’s tantalized us all summer. First, there was the new album with the soon-to-be hit single, “Round Run.” Then there was the trailer for the music video.
Now -- undeterred by a few scandals about Billboard not actually declaring Googoosha a hit -- we have the real thing: Move over VH1, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman, Islam Karimov, is on YouTube.
Rolling around Bukhara in a classic Chaika limousine, Gulnara Karimova is waiting for her black-clad ninja man as he runs “round and round,” scaling walls, jumping and skipping across the fabled UNESCO world heritage site to an exclusive rendezvous with the princess of pop (and the country). It’s the Matrix meets James Bond playing capture the flag.
Googoosha sure knows how to build up the suspense. While you may not often see a low-cut dress in an Islamic holy place, Googoosha owns it, baby.
As for the music? Googoosha calls her song a “dance floor pumper” from an “exotic potpourri of sounds and a personal testimony to the power of deeply felt emotions.” While some might feel the 90s-style synthpop better relegated to a sticky Tashkent nightclub, we’ll let viewers decide.
Once again a foreign telecoms firm in Uzbekistan is at the heart of an international scandal, and this time the trail leads back to a close associate of Gulnara Karimova's.
An investigation to be aired September 19 by Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT) charges that Swedish-Finnish mobile giant TeliaSonera has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to a shady offshore firm for the rights to operate in Uzbekistan. Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator Islam Karimov, is close to the action, says SVT's Uppdrag Granskning (“Mission Scrutiny”) program.
TeliaSonera, which is 37 percent owned by the Swedish government, started operating in Uzbekistan in 2007. In order to work there, the company relied on a partner called Takilant Limited, which is based in Gibraltar and run by an Uzbekistan national named Gayane Avakyan.
Uppdrag Granskning reports that Avakyan has strong links to Karimova. Her name appears frequently in association with Gulnara’s pet fashion projects. And Radio Ozodlik has quoted sources calling Avakyan very close to Karimova, adding that she manages the first daughter’s finances.
Over the course of six years, SVT says, TeliaSonera has paid Takilant 2.2 billion Swedish krona ($336 million) in exchange for 3G licenses, mobile frequencies and phone numbers in Uzbekistan. But, the program notes, the money cannot be accounted for in public financial records.
The question of what motivates Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, is key to U.S. policy in Central Asia, which relies heavily on Uzbekistan as a staging ground for military equipment being shipped to Afghanistan. What does Karimov want in return for his cooperation for this Northern Distribution Network? The most plausible explanation is that he is looking for some sort of geopolitical support against Russia, and the military equipment that the U.S. is in the process of giving Uzbekistan is meant as an explicit symbol of that support.
This is in marked contrast to Uzbekistan's neighbors Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, who by all accounts are just out for money, and see military cooperation with foreign countries as a cash cow. Karimov, for all his faults, is generally believed to be relatively uncorrupt (his daughters, of course, are a different story...)
But might Karimov be more motivated by money than we usually think? A reader passes on a very interesting report, which I missed when it was first released (yes, in 2006). The report discusses the fate of the Karshi-Khanabad air base that the U.S. operated in the early years of the war in Afghanistan. And the experience of K2 is probably our best look into what Karimov wants, and doesn't want, out of his military ties with the U.S.
One problem for anyone seeking to foster regional integration in Central Asia (“New Silk Road” or otherwise) is the frequent border disputes between the countries involved. Uzbekistan, which abuts all the other Central Asia states, has been particularly uncooperative, often closing its border posts without notice, hampering trade and hurting economies around the region.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a multilateral lender, has announced it will grant $100 million to help people and goods cross one of those tricky borders. Much of the money will be used to repave a 113-kilometer stretch of road in Tajikistan connecting a major highway with an isolated valley leading to the border with Uzbekistan.
“Improvements to this road will increase regional connectivity, reduce transport costs, and strengthen competitiveness,” said Zheng Wu, a transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, in a September 13 press release. Part of the money will also be spent on upgrading infrastructure at the Sarazm border post on the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan frontier.
But that post has been closed for almost two years. Uzbekistan sealed it in late 2010, cutting Panjakent – a Tajik town in the valley, home to some 33,000 people – off from the Uzbek city of Samarkand, only 60 kilometers away.
The new road project, expected to begin later this year, will certainly help connect the isolated Zarafshan Valley with the rest of Tajikistan, and thereby with a new source for the goods and supplies local residents used to buy in Uzbekistan. At present, in winter Zarafshan’s access to the “mainland” is often restricted to irregular flights to Dushanbe.