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Exclusive: Uzbek Man Linked To Ex-President's Daughter Arrested Allegedly Trying To Get Money From Hong Kong Bank

Gulnara Karimova became one of Central Asia's most powerful women in the 2000s, dabbling in fashion, pop music, charity work, and serving as a United Nations ambassador for the country her father ruled.
Gulnara Karimova became one of Central Asia's most powerful women in the 2000s, dabbling in fashion, pop music, charity work, and serving as a United Nations ambassador for the country her father ruled.

The former husband of the once-powerful, now-disgraced Uzbek socialite Gulnara Karimova has been arrested in Hong Kong and remains in custody, according to people familiar with the matter.

But what exactly was Rustam Madumarov, who was first convicted by an Uzbek court in 2014 on embezzlement and tax-fraud charges, doing in China?

Madumarov reportedly traveled to Hong Kong at the behest of high-ranking officials at Uzbekistan's State Security Service to try and access frozen bank accounts linked to Karimova, according to four people who spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on condition of anonymity. The officials are subordinate to Otabek Umarov, who is married to the younger daughter of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The details of the arrest warrant, including who it was issued by, were not immediately clear.

Rustam Madumarov
Rustam Madumarov

But the revelation is the latest twist in the long-running drama of Karimova, who is the elder daughter of late President Islam Karimov and who has been serving a lengthy sentence in a Tashkent-region women's prison. Several Uzbek officials told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Karimova was recently released from prison and returned to house arrest.

Once seen as a possible heir to her father, Karimova grew to become one of Central Asia's most powerful women in the 2000s, dabbling in fashion, pop music, charity work, and serving as a United Nations ambassador for the country.

Court records in the United States, Switzerland, Sweden, and elsewhere showed that she amassed a substantial fortune that, investigators say, was channeled through hidden offshore accounts mainly into real estate and Swiss banks.

Beginning in 2012, news reports uncovered a multinational bribery scandal that involved telecoms in Sweden and elsewhere that had sought to do business in Uzbekistan.

She had fallen out of the public eye by 2014 and was later put under house arrest. Her father died in 2016 and was succeeded by Mirziyoev, the longtime prime minister.

In 2017, Uzbek prosecutors announced that she had been convicted in 2015 on corruption charges. That December, she was given a 10-year prison sentence but, several months later, the term was changed to house arrest and shortened to five years.

But in March 2019, prosecutors said a Tashkent court had found that Karimova had violated the terms of her house arrest and ordered her sent to the notorious Zangiota prison in Tashkent.

That order was followed two days later by the U.S. Justice Department announcing it had indicted Karimova and a former longtime aide on bribery and other charges. The department said it was one of the largest bribery schemes ever charged under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In September 2023, Swiss prosecutors announced criminal charges of bribery, money laundering, and others against Karimova.

'A Member Of An Organized Crime Group'

Madumarov has been romantically linked to Karimova since the early 2000s when she left her first husband, an ethnic Uzbek from Afghanistan with U.S. citizenship, and flew back to Uzbekistan with her two children. Uzbek prosecutors have named Madumarov in multiple court documents over the years.

Documents obtained by RFE/RL show that Karimova and Madumarov were legally married in November 2008. Other documents show they were divorced, their marriage legally dissolved, about a month later.

He was arrested in February 2014, according to Uzbek prosecutors, charged with being the head of an "organized crime group," with Karimova and several others allegedly being members of the group.

After his May 2014 conviction by a military court, the first of several court cases against him, Madumarov was handed a "long-term sentence." Two years later, Uzbek prosecutors said they had identified millions of dollars in offshore assets allegedly belonging to the "organized crime group" headed by Madumarov. That included $67 million held in an unspecified Hong Kong bank.

Documents obtained by RFE/RL showed Madumarov and Karimova held several accounts in the Hong Kong branch of Standard Chartered, a publicly traded British bank.

Where Is Madumarov?

There was little official information about the length of Madumarov's sentence, nor where he was serving it. The Uzbek Supreme Court did not respond to queries from RFE/RL to specify Madumarov's sentence or whether he had been released.

The British Serious Fraud Office, which is responsible for investigating fraud and corruption in the United Kingdom, announced in 2018 that a civil claim had been made against Karimova and Madumarov targeting three properties in Britain that allegedly "were obtained using the proceeds of corrupt deals in Uzbekistan."

In July 2023, a British court ordered the seizure of three properties and several bank accounts tied to Karimova and Maduramov. They were collectively valued at some $42 million.

The Special Fraud Office "is not aware of the precise location of Mr. Madumarov's incarceration," the order said.

According to five people with direct knowledge of the case, Maduramov traveled to Hong Kong in early October accompanied by two officers from the Uzbek State Security Service. Maduramov was arrested and the two security officers fled the territory.

The exact timing of his arrest is unclear and it's unknown who exactly would have authorized such an operation. But the deputy chairman of the State Security Service (DXX) is Otabek Umarov, who is married to Mirziyoev's younger daughter, Shahnoza.

It's also unclear where the warrant for Madurmarov's arrest originated from. The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone calls seeking comment. Swiss prosecutors declined to comment. Hong Kong police also declined to comment, as did the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office. Gregoire Mangeat, a Swiss defense lawyer who has advocated for Karimova during her imprisonment, also declined to comment.

Money Laundering, Money Wrangling

Since Karimova's jailing and amid the myriad criminal and civil cases against her, authorities in several countries -- including Switzerland and the United States -- have been wrangling for access to the bank accounts, real estate, and other assets that she and her allies accumulated.

The Uzbek government, meanwhile, has argued that it is entitled to those assets, saying essentially that it was the victim of the fraud committed by Karimova and her allies. Switzerland reached a deal last year to send some of the assets it had frozen -- $131 million -- back to Uzbekistan.

And in April, a U.S. judge issued a "summary judgement" against Karimova, Madumarov, and several others, and authorized the Justice Department to seize $200 million in three Swiss bank accounts.

Written by Mike Eckel, with reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

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