Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, is alive but not doing so well in a prison outside Tashkent, according to her Geneva-based defense attorney. And while the former jet-setting presidential daughter rejects accusations of financial wrongdoing lodged against her at home and abroad, she is willing to make some concessions if a reasonable solution to her legal problems can be reached.
The revelations were made by Karimova’s lawyer, Gregoire Mangeat, who was able to meet with his client in late April after having had virtually no access to her for more than a year. In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL on June 20, Mangeat debunked rumors of Karimova’s demise, shed light on her current state of health, and discussed developments in a Swiss money-laundering investigation into her business dealings that led to the seizure of more than $700 million that could soon be repatriated to the Uzbek state.
Mangeat, who met with his client at the Prosecutor-General’s Office in Tashkent on April 25 and 26 , said Karimova was “tired” but displayed lots of courage despite being detained under what he described as “really bad” conditions at a prison located three hours from the capital. Mangeat’s assessment was not based on seeing the prison firsthand, and he did not elaborate other than to say he had relayed his concerns to prosecutors he met with during his visit to Uzbekistan.
The last time he met with Karimova, he said, was in December 2016 — the same month that current President Shavkat Mirzioyev was elected president after Islam Karimov’s death was announced in September. Mangeat told RFE/RL that at that time she was under detention in a small annex of a run-down home and had no contact with the outside world.
After that meeting, his first with Karimova, Mangeat said, it was “impossible to communicate [with her]” for more than a year and she was allowed only one or two visits with her teenage daughter, Iman, and had absolutely no contact with her son, British-based Islam Karimov Jr.
The situation, he said, made it impossible to do his job, and he filed numerous requests to meet with his client that were either ignored or refused.
According to an article published by the Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung (New Journal of Zurich, or NZZ) on June 16, Swiss federal prosecutors involved in the money-laundering probe centering on Karimova and five other defendants took control of the funds seized from accounts in Geneva and Zurich, and the Swiss government issued orders in May for the money to be repatriated to Uzbekistan.
The issue, according to NZZ, is close to being resolved, but the publication noted that Karimova’s defense team was objecting to the seizure and transfer of her funds and had appealed the orders, which Mangeat was quoted as saying were a “serious violation of Karimova’s right to a fair trial and equal treatment.”
Mangeat told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that he believes that Uzbekistan’s desire to obtain some or all of Karimova’s seized funds played a part in him being allowed to visit with his client.
“They realized that by letting me, to some extent, do my job, probably the reproaches would be less intense and then they would increase their chances to get to the money,” Mangeat said.
Face To Face
The lawyer said that he was able to meet with Karimova for two days, and confirmed the identity of his now 45-year-old client, whose disappearance from the public eye since 2014 had led to various rumors that she was poisoned, dead, or placed in a psychiatric hospital.
The lack of verifiable news about her whereabouts or condition was a stark contrast to the high-profile, glamorous life she lived as a pop singer, free-spending socialite, diplomat, and fashionable face of her father’s longstanding authoritarian rule over Uzbekistan.
Once viewed as a possible successor to her father as president, Karimova fell from grace after a highly publicized family feud. Images of her have not been seen since several undated photos emerged online in September 2014 in which it was alleged she was being manhandled by security agents.
Describing his late April meetings with Karimova in Tashkent, Mangeat said that “the first day she was very tired and under medication,” without elaborating. “It was impossible to work.”
After speaking one-on-one for a few hours at the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office, “we had to stop…because it was very difficult for her to focus on things and work with me,” Mangeat added. “But the next day was better.”
Mangeat said he planned to head to Tashkent again for more meetings with Karimova scheduled for June 21 and 22.
Uzbek authorities have said that Karimova is serving five years under “restricted freedom” after her conviction in 2015 of crimes including embezzlement, extortion, and tax evasion.
In addition to the Swiss money-laundering case, Karimova has also been tied to some of the largest corruption cases in recent history in both Europe and the United States. The former CEO and two other officers of the Swedish telecom giant TeliaSonera were charged with graft in 2017 following a nearly $1 billion settlement by the company to U.S. and EU authorities for a scheme linked to Karimova.
Separately, the Dutch telecoms company Vimpelcom agreed to settle U.S. corruption charges for $800 million after investigators traced it to a Gibraltar shell company controlled by Karimova.
The U.S. Justice Department placed a seizure order on nearly $600 million in Karimova’s assets traced to telecom bribes.
In a rare statement in July 2017, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s office said that owing to an ongoing probe Karimova had been charged with several other crimes, including financial misdeeds, forgery, and money laundering.
‘She Wants To Be Heard’
Mangeat told RFE/RL that Karimova rejects all the charges against her, including those by Swiss prosecutors.
He said, without elaborating, that his client was willing to make “some concessions” in order to find a “reasonable solution.” But Mangeat said he would challenge any ruling to confiscate “all” Karimova’s assets, taking it to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, and stressed that “she is not pleading guilty or [anything] like that.”
Karimova’s intention “is simply to be heard” and to “have enough time” with her lawyer to prepare for defense, Mangeat said.
To find a resolution to what he describes as a “very complicated situation” for everyone involved, Mangeat said, he has sought a meeting with Uzbek President Mirziyoev.
Since succeeding Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan for more than a quarter of a century, Mirziyoev has received recognition for starting tentative reforms and improving long isolated Uzbekistan’s relations with other countries.
A 2017 statement from Uzbek prosecutors said they were seeking to repatriate $1.5 billion worth of assets owned by Karimova in Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates.
The prosecutors alleged that Karimova illegally obtained assets worth more than $590 million and received some $870 million in kickbacks.
Written by Farangis Najibullah and RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Zamira Eshanova.