Uzbekistan: Pressure Mounts in Europe’s Gulnara-Linked Corruption Probes
Pressure is mounting in Europe over graft probes linked to associates of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, as reports emerge that French and Latvian investigators are closing in on corruption enquiries previously confined to Sweden and Switzerland.French investigators have opened a probe “targeting Gulnara Karimova” and linked to a money-laundering case connected to her associates, the Rue89 news website reported on July 31, citing an unidentified judicial source. Swiss prosecutors confirmed earlier this month that French police had raided properties in France at the behest of the Swiss inquiry, which is investigating four Uzbek associates of Karimova’s for money laundering. One of the properties was a Paris flat belonging to Karimova, BBC Russian reported at the time, citing an “informed source.” Rue89 said properties “which could belong to Gulnara Karimova” had been searched on June 18, adding that she owns “several bolt-holes in France” including a villa outside Saint-Tropez and a property in Paris’s chic 16th arrondissement. Rue89 said Karimova owned the real estate through Paris-based companies managed by Alisher Ergashev, a suspect in the Swiss dirty money probe. The site also linked the French investigations with another European graft probe: a Swedish bribery inquiry into allegations of dubious payments by Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market in 2007. TeliaSonera, whose CEO Lars Nyberg resigned in February after an internal investigation found the company disregarded its own guidelines, denies any criminal activity. Meanwhile, in Latvia it has emerged that the banking regulator is probing transfers made by TeliaSonera to an account at Parex Banka, Bloomberg reported on July 26. The news agency noted that a TeliaSonera spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. The Swiss dirty money probe and the Swedish bribery investigation both involve known associates of Karimova’s, including two who were active players on the telecoms market, Gayane Avakyan and Bekhzod Akhmedov. Pressure started heating up in the European graft probes just after Karimova lost the diplomatic immunity she enjoyed in Switzerland, where she was Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations until mid-July. Karimova has not responded to EurasiaNet.org’s requests for comment on the investigations, but has previously blamed rivals for smearing her with corruption allegations.