Sunday, August 31, 2014


Uzbekistan

Karimova Named In Swedish Telecoms Bribery Probe

A Facebook photo of Gulnara Karimova, who is believed to have sent out a letter claiming she is under house arrest in Tashkent, under "severe psychological pressure," and has been beaten.
A Facebook photo of Gulnara Karimova, who is believed to have sent out a letter claiming she is under house arrest in Tashkent, under "severe psychological pressure," and has been beaten.
By RFE/RL
Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, has been named as a suspect in a Swedish telecoms bribery case.

Gunnar Stetler, chief prosecutor at the Swedish National Anticorruption Unit, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Karimova is suspected of taking bribes to let Nordic telecoms company TeliaSonera enter the Uzbek market.

"We have evidence enough according to our beliefs that Gulnara Karimova is under suspicion for taking part in a bribery case," Stetler said.

According to prosecutors, TeliaSonera paid 2.3 billion Swedish crowns ($358 million) for a 3G license in Uzbekistan in 2007 to Gibraltar-registered firm Takilant, knowing that the company was a front for Karimova.

"We do think that we, in the end, can show that the money from [TeliaSonera] has been transferred to companies controlled by Gulnara Karimova," Stetler said. 

"That's our suspicion, and we think we have enough evidence to have that belief, even though we [are searching] for more evidence. We don't have evidence enough for an indictment, but we have evidence enough to tell the court that we have that suspicion." 
 
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The allegations, first made in a Swedish television program in 2012, have already forced most of the TeliaSonera board, its chief executive, and several senior employees from their jobs.

TeliaSonera said it was cooperating with Swedish prosecutors.

Two weeks ago, prosecutors in Switzerland said their investigations into a money-laundering case had expanded to include Karimova as a suspect in fall 2013. The Swiss prosecutors added then that some 660 million euros ($910,500,000) of suspected Uzbek assets had been seized by Swiss authorities. 

Karimova, 41, had been shielded by diplomatic immunity until July, when she was removed from her position as Uzbekistan's ambassador to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva.

Her Uzbek media empire, including several television channels, has been shut down and more than a dozen boutiques selling Western clothes in Tashkent that are believed to belong to her or her business partners have been closed amid allegations of tax evasion and other charges.

In December, a group of exiled Uzbek dissidents broke into Karimova's villa on the shores of Lake Geneva and published images of items allegedly taken from the Uzbek national museum.

Works of art, gold and silver trinkets, jewelry, and an 18th-century jewel-encrusted Koran were among the items the group filmed in the villa, which Karimova purchased in 2009 for 18 million Swiss francs ($20 million).

Media reports said in February that several of Karimova's closest associates, including well-known Uzbek businessman Rustam Madumarov -- who is believed to be Karimova’s boyfriend -- had been arrested in Karimova's apartment in Tashkent and charged with forgery, illegal business activities, money laundering, tax evasion, and illegal export of hard currency in large amounts.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and the BBC say they have obtained copies of a handwritten letter believed to be from Karimova in which she says she is under house arrest in Tashkent, under "severe psychological pressure," and has been beaten. The author says, "You can count the bruises on my arms."

The letter is unsigned, but all indications -- including the level of detail and insight and the similarity to known examples of her handwriting -- point to Karimova as the author.

The author describes daily life under house arrest, saying, "It is impossible to live like a human when you are watched by cameras, when there are armed men everywhere and when you are depressed because of what you have seen."

The letter goes on: "I never thought this could happen in a civilized, developing nation that Uzbekistan portrays itself as. But a closer look showed me all the ugliness of what goes on here, and listening to people whom I would argue with before, I realize that all of it has been happening for a long time."

She appears to criticize her father, President Islam Karimov, saying he has "betrayed his own children" and "destroyed his own grandchildren" and questioning his ability to rule. But she said "many witnesses can confirm that I always unconditionally respected and sincerely loved my father."
 
Based on reporting by Reuters, BBC, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, and fergananews.ru

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