The United States has for the first time named Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late president of Uzbekistan, in a major international bribery scheme, charging her with conspiracy to violate U.S. foreign-corruption laws.
The criminal charges, announced on March 7 by the U.S. Justice Department, came just days after Karimova was abruptly detained in Tashkent, accused of violating her house arrest, and ordered sent to an Uzbek prison.
While U.S. court documents have in the past suggested the involvement of Karimova in violation of foreign corrupt practices, the filing was the first time she has been explicitly named -- a further sign of how deep her criminal liability has become.
The Justice Department said it was one of the largest bribery schemes ever under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
It is also an indication of how the government of Uzbekistan, under the successor to President Islam Karimov, has moved to target major figures from the Karimov era — including his relatives.
The charges stem from an alleged bribery scheme involving Russia’s largest mobile-phone provider, MTS.
The Moscow-based company, whose shares trade on U.S. stock exchanges, on March 7 announced it had reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors under which it would pay $850 million to settle bribery and corruption charges related to its business in Uzbekistan.
According to U.S. court filings, Karimov and a longtime aide named Bekhzod Akhmedov conspired to solicit more than $865 million in bribes related to mobile-phone licenses and regulations in Uzbekistan over more than 11 years, between 2001 and 2012.
The companies included MTS, but also VimpelCom and the Scandinavian telecom company that used to be known as TeliaSonera.
Both those companies paid record settlements to U.S. and other foreign regulators for bribery schemes that also were connected to Karimova.
"This is the third installment in a trilogy of cases arising from an almost $1 billion bribery scheme that reached the highest echelons of the Uzbekistan government and was orchestrated by some of the largest telecommunications companies in the world," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Following her detention, Karimova's whereabouts was not clear.
Akhmedov, meanwhile, was a longtime aide for Karimova, who fled to Moscow in 2012.
In an affidavit filed in September 2012 with Russian law enforcement officials, Akhmedov provided explicit details about Karimova’s business practices while he still lived in Tashkent.
He asserted that he and his family was threatened repeatedly and pressured to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Karimova foundation event.
А flashy socialite known for fashion shows and syrupy pop-music videos, Karimova was at one point thought to be an heir to Karimov and the presidency.
But she disappeared from the public eye in 2014. Uzbek prosecutors subsequently confirmed she was under house arrest and being investigated for suspected corruption and other charges.
On March 5, Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor-General's Office said a Tashkent court had found she had violated the terms of her house arrest and ordered her sent to prison.
Since Karimov’s death in 2016, his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoev, has moved to make Uzbekistan more business-friendly and to attract Western investment. His government has also engaged in a purge of thousands of government officials appointed under Karimov and has even moved to target top law enforcement, including the former prosecutor-general.
U.S. authorities, meanwhile, have been engaged in multiyear negotiations with Uzbekistan over the fate of nearly $1 billion in assets belonging to Karimova that have been frozen in Swiss and other bank accounts.