The U.S. Justice Department has won permission to seize $300 million allegedly linked to a Russian-Uzbek bribery scandal involving a close relative of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
In a July 9 ruling in New York City, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter allowed the government to impound the funds held by Bank of New York Mellon Corp. in Ireland, Luxembourg, and Belgium and in Clearstream Banking SA accounts linked to the companies in Luxembourg.
The United States said in a complaint that the money is tied to an international money-laundering conspiracy involving payments to an unidentified "Government Official A," who is a relative of Uzbekistan’s president.
Justice Department officials say two Russian telecoms firms -- VimpelCom Ltd. and Mobile TeleSystems OJSC -- used a web of shell companies and phony consulting contracts to funnel more than $500 million in corrupt payments to shell companies owned by the official in exchange for access to Uzbekistan’s telecommunications market.
In March 2014, prosecutors in Sweden named the Uzbek president's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, as a suspect in a Swedish telecoms bribery case.
Swedish prosecutors said then that they were investigating Karimova on suspicion of taking bribes to let Nordic telecoms company TeliaSonera enter the market in Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation of 29 million that is tightly controlled by her long-ruling father.
According to prosecutors, TeliaSonera paid 2.3 billion Swedish crowns ($358 million) for a 3G license in Uzbekistan in 2007 to Gibraltar-registered firm Takilant, knowing that the company was a front for Karimova.
That statement came two weeks after prosecutors in Switzerland said their investigations into a money-laundering case had expanded to include Karimova as a suspect in fall 2013. The Swiss prosecutors added then that some 660 million euros ($9.1 million at 2013 exchange rates) of suspected Uzbek assets had been seized by Swiss authorities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department said on June 29 that some of the funds it seeks are held by Takilant Ltd. Takilant held a minority interest in VimpelCom’s business in Uzbekistan from 2007 to 2009.
Once a well-traveled businesswoman seen as a potential successor to her authoritarian father, who has been in power since before the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, Karimova is also at the center of a financial-crimes probe in Uzbekistan.
She has been under house arrest since last year and many of her former associates have been jailed.
With reporting by Bloomberg and The Irish Times