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Documents Link Uzbekistan's Karimova To Money-Laundering Suspect

  • Farruh Yusupov
  • Daisy Sindelar

Gulnara Karimova arrives for a party during the international film festival in Cannes in 2010.

Gulnara Karimova arrives for a party during the international film festival in Cannes in 2010.

A series of documents have been uncovered in France that link Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, with an Uzbek businessman currently detained in Switzerland as part of a money-laundering investigation.

The signatures of Karimova and Alisher Ergashev, an executive from Coca-Cola Uzbekistan, appear together on at least eight documents (see one here) as the owner and director, respectively, of two companies used to purchase property in France.

The documents, dated between September 2009 and May 2011, were obtained by Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra (TT) and shared with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

Obtained from French company registers, which are open to the public, they show Karimova and Ergashev signing off on at least one attempted purchase, that of a property in the French Riviera town of Gassin.

They also list the company's seat as 1 Avenue du General Maunoury, a plush, tree-lined street in western Paris's prestigious 16th Arrondissement, where flats typically sell for between $19,000 and $38,000 per square meter.

Later, the seat is transferred to an address on Boulevard Pereire in the only slightly less fancy 17th Arrondissement.

A second woman, Irina Emelyanova, is listed in the documents as a minority shareholder. No additional details are known about Emelyanova, and she does not appear to be connected to the criminal cases.

Money-Laundering Charges

The French documents are significant because they show an explicit link between Karimova and one of four Uzbeks involved in separate criminal investigations in Switzerland and Sweden involving two telecommunications companies: the Russian mobile operator MTS and the Swedish-Finnish TeliaSonera.

A document confirming business ties between Gulnara Karimova and money-laundering suspect Alisher Ergashev (click to enlarge)

A document confirming business ties between Gulnara Karimova and money-laundering suspect Alisher Ergashev (click to enlarge)

Ergashev, together with fellow Coca-Cola Uzbekistan executive Shorhurh Sabirov, was arrested in Geneva on July 30 on money-laundering charges. Both men remain in custody.

The third Uzbek believed to be involved in the investigation is Bekhzod Akhmedov, the former director of the Uzbek subsidiary of MTS.

A leaked document from Swiss investigators states the criminal probe was opened after a Geneva-based bank, Lombard Odier, notified authorities that Akhmedov, a client, was listed on an Interpol wanted list for alleged fraud. A spokesperson for the Swiss Attorney-General's Office confirmed to RFE/RL the authenticity of the document.

Akhmedov was placed on the wanted list at Uzbekistan's request after he fled the country amid a row between MTS officials and Uzbek officials.

He has been described by investigators in Switzerland's money-laundering office as "close" to Karimova, although the authorities have provided no evidence of business ties. Akhmedov's whereabouts is currently unknown.

Swedish Connection

A fourth Uzbek, Gayane Avakyan, is the operator of Takilant Limited, the company that is suspected of accepting money from TeliaSonera in exchange for operating licenses and access to the Uzbek cell-phone market.

Swedish prosecutors in early October froze $30 million held by Takilant in a Swedish account. The order to free the assets lists both Avakyan and Ergashev as representing Takilant in Sweden.

An investigative report aired in Sweden in September alleges that TeliaSonera in 2008 paid $320 million to the Gibraltar-based Takilant in order to gain access to the Uzbek market.

TeliaSonera earlier confirmed that it bought 3G licenses and phone numbers from Takilant for $30 million in 2007. But it denies influence peddling or other wrongdoing.

Avakyan, who is currently based in Tashkent, is the director of Karimova's Dom Stilya fashion house in the Uzbek capital and is frequently photographed with Karimova.

Hundreds Of Millions Frozen

Swiss authorities say they have frozen the accounts of all four Uzbek nationals involved in the investigation. The holdings are estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars and may be held in other banks in addition to Lombard Odier.

Ola Westerberg, the TT correspondent who uncovered the French documents, told RFE/RL that the money frozen in Takilant's Swedish account was originally transferred from a Swiss account.

Karimova, 40, is estimated to be worth $500 million and is regularly listed as one of the richest women in Switzerland.

The presidential daughter, who dabbles in fashion design and pop music in addition to managing a stable of charitable organizations in Uzbekistan, also serves as her country's ambassador to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Karimova is frequently mentioned as a likely successor to her autocratic father, 74, who has one of the worst human rights records in Central Asia.

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