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Cluing In On The Uzbek Succession

Gulnara Karimova at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival on May 22.
Gulnara Karimova at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival on May 22.
RFE/RL is closely following the troubles the Swiss-registered company Zeromax is facing, especially considering the energy company's reputed ties to the Uzbek president's head-turning eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova.

The demise of Uzbekistan's biggest foreign investor -- Zeromax was formally shut down this week -- was taken as a sign that the 37-year-old Karimova's ascension to the throne is in jeopardy.

Gulnara Karimova has often been mentioned as a successor to her aging "Big Papa," President Islam Karimov, but she is not the only one. Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev is also on the short list of names bandied about when discussing who will be the next leader of Uzbekistan.

Interestingly enough, it was Mirziyaev who first launched the anticorruption drive that zeroed in on Zeromax, which is also seen as the origin of complaints by Russian officials about the role of "middlemen" in Russian-Uzbek gas deals.

One of these middlemen is Zeromax, the only Western company working in Uzbekistan's gas industry.

Suddenly Zeromax is out, its Uzbek officials under criminal investigation and Uzbekistan's gas and oil industry gets a new supervisor -- Prime Minister Mirziyaev.

It is too early to say Gulnara's star has fallen. She continues to reside in Spain while making occasional stops in Switzerland, where she is among the country's richest women with an estimated wealth of $570 to $665 million, represents her native country as Uzbekistan's representative to the UN, and has a partnership with Choupard to produce her own line of jewelry.

But while Mirziyaev appears to be taking a bigger role in Uzbekistan -- his most recent trip abroad was to Moscow, where he represented Uzbekistan at the ceremony with other CIS leaders commemorating the end of World War II -- Gulnara seems to be taking bigger hits.

Now, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports, her feel-good Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation -- you've seen the adds on CNN -- is being targeted in an investigation launched this week.

-- Bruce Pannier