Uzbekistan: Frozen Millions on Agenda as Minister Holds Talks in U.S.?
Uzbekistan’s foreign minister has begun a round of annual consultations in Washington that happen to follow shortly after Tashkent launched an offensive to recover millions of dollars frozen in a U.S. corruption case involving the Uzbek president’s daughter.
Abdulaziz Komilov began the three-day talks on January 19 with a meeting with Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent said in an e-mailed statement.
Topics for discussion include the usual suspects: security, political developments, human rights and trade. But one onlie Uzbek media outlet is speculating that Komilov may also be raising another thorny topic behind the scenes.
According to documents recently filed with a U.S. court, copies of which have been seen by EurasiaNet.org, Tashkent has begun pressing for the release of $300 million in assets frozen during a bribery investigation involving the president’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova. The last that was heard of Karimova, she was under house arrest in Tashkent.
The funds are allegedly illicit proceeds from “an international conspiracy to launder corrupt payments” made in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice last summer.
The $300 million – held in Bank of New York Mellon accounts in Belgium, Ireland, and Luxemburg – were frozen by a U.S. Federal Court order in July.
The lawsuit named two Karimova associates, Gayane Avakyan and Rustam Madumarov, as owners of shell companies “beneficially owned by GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL A.”
The identity of that person has not been revealed, but it is widely held to be Karimova. She has held government positions and been named as a suspect in a money-laundering probe in Switzerland involving payments in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector. Those payments are in turn linked to an ongoing bribery investigation in Sweden.
In December, Uzbekistan’s Justice Minister Muzraf Ikramov wrote to the court requesting that the frozen funds be forfeited to Tashkent – effectively arguing that money that benefited “GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL A” should be returned to the government.
Pointing out that Madumarov and Avakyan have already been convicted by a court in Uzbekistan, he put forward an interpretation of the UN Convention against Corruption that suggested that laundered funds should be returned to the original member state.
Uzbekistan “clearly is an injured party because its officials were the subject of the bribes at issue,” a follow-up letter sent by law firm Holwell Shuster & Goldberg on January 4 suggested.
Neither of the letters mentions Karimova or any of the firms involved in the various bribery and corruption probes ongoing in the United States and Europe, which include Sweden’s TeliaSonera and Russian-owned MTS and VimpelCom. The companies deny knowingly breaking any laws.
Nothing has been heard of Karimova since her Twitter account went silent in the fall of 2014, when prosecutors in Uzbekistan named her as a suspect in a corruption ring.
Hearings into Tashkent’s request for the return of the laundered funds are expected to begin later this month.