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Uzbekistan

Swiss Announce Karimova Money-Laundering Probe

Gulnara Karimova (file photo)Gulnara Karimova (file photo)
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Gulnara Karimova (file photo)
Gulnara Karimova (file photo)

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By RFE/RL
Swiss prosecutors say they're investigating Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of authoritarian Uzbek President Islam Karimov, on suspicion of money laundering.

In a statement on March 12, the office said the criminal probe expanded to include Karimova in the fall of 2013.

The statement linked the probe to "alleged illegal acts taking place in the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan." It said some 660 million euros ($915 million) of suspected Uzbek assets had been seized by Swiss authorities.

Swiss authorities first launched a criminal money-laundering probe against four Uzbek nationals with close ties to Karimova in July 2012, the statement said, adding that the suspected illegal activities were linked to the Uzbek telecommunications market.

Two of them were arrested that summer but released on bail the following October, according to the statement.

"The Public Ministry of the Confederation has opened a preliminary investigation on suspicion of money laundering," Jeannette Balmer, a spokeswoman for the Swiss attorney general's office, told RFE/RL by telephone on March 12. "The investigation had already been opened in July 2012 [against four Uzbek nationals]. Alleged illegal acts taking place in the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan are considered as the initial money-laundering offenses. The link with the investigation conducted in Switzerland is the existence of assets in our country."

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.

The statement by the Swiss attorney general's office says Karimova reportedly left Switzerland shortly after her name was added to the ongoing probe in mid-September.

Balmer says the Swiss investigation has led to new corruption probes abroad.

"The Public Ministry of the Confederation has requested judicial cooperation from several states, including Sweden and France, which have opened their own investigations," Balmer says.

Police searched Karimova's Geneva home at the end of August in a search for evidence in the case.

In connection with the probe, Swiss authorities have blocked more than 800 million Swiss francs' ($910 million) worth of suspected Uzbek national artifacts in Switzerland and were attempting to identify their origin.

Karimova had been seen as a possible successor to her 75-year-old father. She had long managed to combine politics with a career as a pop star, fashion designer, and the head of charitable funds, but has suffered a spectacular fall from power in recent months.

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 on 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).

With AFP and AP reporting

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