The Swedish-based telecom giant TeliaSonera is under investigation for bribing Uzbek nationals in exchange for a 3G license and entry into the Uzbek market. Related money-laundering investigations in Switzerland and Sweden have focused on four Uzbek nationals with known ties to Uzbek presidential daughter Gulnara Karimova.
Karimova herself has yet to be named as a suspect in the case, which has led to the freezing of hundreds of millions of dollars and fed speculation about the nature of Karimova’s relationship with Uzbekistan’s foreign investors.
Here’s some background about the main players:
Gulnara Karimova is the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s autocratic President Islam Karimov. A pop singer, fashion designer, and perfume impresario, Karimova is also viewed as the family money-earner and has been branded a “robber baron” for taking over or asset-stripping successful businesses operating in Uzbekistan.
Karimova, who has held a largely ornamental post as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has been named as a possible presidential successor to her ailing father. She has never commented publicly on the TeliaSonera case and has accused unnamed "opponents" of seeking to tie her to the money-laundering cases.
Frequently described as Karimova’s "right hand," Gayane Avakyan served as the head of Karimova’s fashion house and the director of Takilant Limited, the Gibraltar-based shell company that is TeliaSonera’s stated partner in its dealings in Uzbekistan. TeliaSonera is being investigated for allegedly paying $320 million to Takilant that then vanished from the company books.
Avakyan, who appeared to be one of the prime managers of Karimova’s foreign bank accounts, has been named as a person of interest in both the Swiss and Swedish money-laundering investigations.
A former ally of Karimova, Bekzod Akhmedov is believed to have helped negotiate TeliaSonera’s Uzbek business dealings even as he was serving as the head of a rival company, Uzdunorbita, the local subsidiary of Russian wireless giant MTS.
Akhmedov fled Uzbekistan in the summer of 2012 after Uzbek authorities staged a raid on Uzdunorbita in an apparent attempt to seize MTS holdings and clients. He was placed on an Interpol wanted list, raising alarm bells at Geneva bank Lombard Odier, where he held several large accounts. Swiss prosecutors opened the money-laundering case soon afterward, naming Akhmedov as a suspect.
He has since been returned to Uzbekistan to face corruption charges and has vanished from the public eye.
An executive from Coca-Cola Uzbekistan, Alisher Ergashev was arrested in Geneva in July 2012 after allegedly trying to access a Takilant account with suspicious identity documents. He is also a named holder of a Takilant account in Sweden, now frozen, as well as the co-signatory, with Karimova, on several luxury properties in France.
A fellow Coca-Cola Uzbekistan manager, Shohruh Ergashev was arrested together with Ergashev in Geneva, reportedly while in Avakyan's company. In October 2012, both men were released on bail and were returned to Uzbekistan. The Swiss Attorney General’s office confirmed their release but refused to explain the grounds for the decision.