An Uzbek ′princess′ falls from grace | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.03.2019
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An Uzbek 'princess' falls from grace

After years of uncertainty, new details are coming to light about the fate of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's former dictator. Investigators are still trying to get to the bottom of her alleged corruption.

Gulnara Karimova is now sitting in detention in Uzbekistan. These details shared in a press release by the Uzbek state prosecutor's office stand in stark contrast to Karimova's former life as the daughter of the country's late president. Until 2014, she was the face of Uzbekistan's brutal regime.

As a fashion star, singer — she peformed under the name Googoosha — and diplomat, Karimova was long considered a natural successor to her father, who ruled Uzbekistan unchallenged for 27 years until his death in 2016.

The fall of a rising star

She was also known for her dubious wealth. A corruption investigation has been ongoing since 2012, and in 2014 Karimova fell out of favor with her father, Islam Karimov. She disappeared from view, put under unofficial house arrest.

In 2015, Karimova was reported to have been sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion and extortion. Her Swiss attorney, Gregoire Mangeat, said the trial was anything but free and fair.

The death of her father tore the family apart. Karimova was not seen at the funeral, but was confronted with new charges in 2017, when Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed power in Uzbekistan. It was unclear if she was in jail or still under house arrest. Rumors swirled about her whereabouts and well being.

Islam Karimov (picture-alliance/dpa)

Islam Karimov died in 2016 after 27 years in power

The daughter speaks

In an Instagram post on March 5, Karimova's daughter, Iman, wrote from London that her mother had been abducted by Uzbek officials from her home in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Karimova's attorney Mangeat confirmed the incident.

Uzbekistan's state prosecutor confirmed that in December 2017 Karimova had been sentenced to 10 years in prison, but this was reduced to five years on "humanitarian grounds." The sentence could be carried out in her daughter's apartment from summer 2018, with one condition: Karimova assisted in tracking down assets that were suspected to have been stashed around the world.

She has not complied, according to Uzbek authorities. She's left the apartment multiple times and has used the internet, despite a ban. And she has done nothing to recover assets, authorities say. As a result, an Uzbek court has banished her to a prison colony.

Karimova under pressure

Karimova is reported to have 800 million Swiss francs (€707 million, $794 million) in Swiss bank accounts, which have since been confiscated for being used for bribes for Western and Russian telecommunications companies gaining access to Uzbekistan, according to Swiss authorities. Investigations in a total of 19 countries are ongoing against her and related persons of interest, totaling millions of dollars.

Gulnara Karimova in Tashkent (Getty Images/Y. Forestier)

Gulnara Karimova was once one of the most prominent faces in Uzbek society

Mangeat, representing Karimova in Switzerland, says the Uzbek government has subjected her to physical and psychological stress in an effort to get her to comply and recover the 800 million francs.

"The Swiss have no interest in hosting illegally obtained assets," Swiss authorities told DW. Mangeat called Karimova's case a "stalemate" that had gone on for years, and cricitized the "utterly arbitrary" methods of the Uzbek authorities, who he said disregard "fundamental human rights."

Billions more missing

Karimova has not been fully forthcoming to Uzbek authorities about her assets, according to Arkady Dubnov, a central Asia expert. "I'd say those expectations to do so are why her sentencing was so light," he said.

Karimova's current situation would make it difficult for her to further help Uzbek authorities, said Daniil Kislov, founder and editor-in-chief of the Ferghana news agency.

Uzbek authorities are seeking damages of nearly $2 billion. Karimova has already extorted more than $1 billion from telecom companies for bribes alone, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.