Four television stations close to Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek president’s eldest daughter, remain off air today, sources in Tashkent confirm, three days after mysteriously disappearing from the airwaves.
The channels – Forum, TV-Markaz (TVM), NTT, and SoFTS, which are linked to Karimova via her Fund Forum cultural organization – disappeared on October 21 and are not available on the Internet either.
Today TV-Markaz says it is switching formats: “Due to a switch to a new broadcasting format, the TVM television channel temporarily suspended broadcasting on October 21, 2013 […] All shows and projects are continuing to be produced and TMV staff are working as usual,” the company said in an October 24 statement.
But the timing is odd and fostering suspicion that Karimova – often mooted as a potential successor to her aging father – is in trouble at home. The blackout comes during one of Karimova’s most important annual events, Style.uz, which opened on October 22. The stations often promote Karimova, her charity and fashion projects, and her sultry music videos.
Some Uzbekistan watchers link the suspensions to scandals that have rocked the first family in recent weeks: Last month, Karimova’s younger sister Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, Uzbekistan's permanent representative at UNESCO in Paris, distanced herself from her father’s human rights abuses and the allegations of corruption surrounding her sister, explaining she has not spoken to Karimova for 12 years.
Karimova turned to social-media, where she accused Lola of ties to “sorcerers” and of trying to bewitch their mother.
Some have linked the public mud slinging to other signs of a mounting power struggle in Uzbekistan. On October 10, Karimova’s cousin Akbarali Abdullayev, who had also been tipped as a potential successor to the president, was detained on suspicion of operating an organized crime ring. He is accused of embezzlement, tax evasion and bribery.
Karimova is suspected of similar things in Europe: This summer her properties in Switzerland and France were raided as part of a money-laundering probe. She has also been named in a corruption investigation in Sweden.
While her television channels remain inexplicably off the air, Karimova’s place in Uzbekistan’s Byzantine pecking order looks increasingly vulnerable.