Uzbek rights defenders and former political prisoners, some of whom reside abroad, have called on Switzerland, Uzbekistan, and the United States to ensure that money confiscated from the oldest daughter of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, will not be misused again.
The letter, initiated by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and signed by 13 Uzbek human and civil rights activists, was placed on the Uzbekform.org website on September 16, five days after the Swiss government said it had reached agreement with Tashkent on returning $131 million to Uzbekistan that was seized in connection with criminal proceedings against Karimova.
In its statement, the Swiss government said that, according to the nonbinding framework agreement, any returned assets "shall be used for the benefit of the people of Uzbekistan."
Transparency and the creation of a monitoring mechanism are among the requirements for the restitution to take place, the statement said.
In their letter, the Uzbek activists hailed the Swiss-Uzbek agreement, calling it "an important step," but warned that "the agreement requires evidence of further domestic reform given the political and institutional environment in Uzbekistan."
The activists say in the letter that the implementation of the agreements and other deals related to the issue must be conducted with the involvement of Uzbek and international civil society groups and "independent" NGOs not controlled by the Uzbek government.
"Thirdly, we believe that the requirement of accountability simply cannot be fulfilled until rule of law is established in the country. The legal [system] is still under the direct control of the Uzbek Ministry of Justice. There are no open and transparent systems of public procurement, nor a conflict of interest clause. Due process rights are prohibited and selectively enforced. A number of other anti-corruption mechanisms have not yet been adopted by the government, without which abuse in spending the returned assets is very likely,” the letter says.
Switzerland froze around 800 million Swiss francs ($880 million) in 2012 in connection with criminal proceedings against Karimova, of which almost $131 million was confiscated in 2019.
The remaining funds remain frozen, and the Swiss government's September 11 statement stressed that the framework agreement would cover any more assets definitively confiscated in the still-ongoing criminal case.
Earlier in May, Uzbek government officials said Tashkent received from France assets worth $10 million illegally acquired by Karimova.
Tashkent has sought over $1 billion from foreign jurisdictions since announcing Karimova's imprisonment in 2017.
Karimova, once seen as a possible successor to Islam Karimov, was placed under house arrest in Tashkent in 2014 while her father was still alive and running the country. Karimov died in 2016 and Shavkat Mirziyoev became his successor soon afterward.
Criminal investigations in Switzerland, the United States, Sweden, and the Netherlands have linked Karimova to a massive, years-long bribery scheme that revolved mainly around foreign telecommunications companies gaining access to the lucrative Uzbek market.
In December 2017, Karimova was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, but the sentence was later reclassified to house arrest and shortened to five years. She was placed in jail in March 2019 for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest.
In February, she sent a letter to Mirziyoev offering to return $686 million to the country's treasury in exchange for the dismissal of the court case against her at home.
But a month later, she received an additional 13 years and four months in prison after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering, and other crimes.