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Gulnara Karimova’s Apartment Seized in Moscow

Saturday 3 November 2012

MOSCOW (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty) – Russian investigators say the $10-million Moscow apartment belonging to the daughter of Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov has been seized as part of an investigation.

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Gulnara Karimova at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival
(Photo: RIA Novosti)
As reported by Olam.uz, French actor Gerard Depardieu will play a part in the film based on a script co-written by the head of the International Golden Leopard Film Festival in Uzbekistan, Akbar Khakimov, and Gulnara Karimova. The 63 year-old star of 1492: Conquest of Paradise is invited to appear as a European monk in the story set in Central Asia during the 5th-6th Centuries.
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Camelot in Komsomolsky prospect in Moscow

Reports on November 2 said Gulnara Karimova’s flat in the Camelot complex on Komsomolsky Prospect was seized in accordance with a court order issued on October 31. Russian investigators are looking into the Uzbek authorities’ decision to strip mobile operator Uzdunrobita, a subsidiary of Russia’s MTS, of its license earlier this year along with the seizure of company property and assets. Uzbek authorities claim the MTS subsidiary owes some US $1 billion, approximately the amount invested by MTS in Uzbekistan. Uzdunrobita was Uzbekistan’s largest mobile operator with some 9.5 million customers.

Russia’s Interior Ministry has filed a criminal case against the seizures of MTS property and assets in Uzbekistan.

Recently, new documents uncovered by Swedish journalists in France link Gulnara Karimova, with an Uzbek citizen under investigation for money laundering and other financial crimes in Switzerland and Sweden.

Swiss Connection

Last October, Uzbek diplomatic officials have responded in writing to a request for information from the Swiss newspaper Le Temps and gave few details about the case but offered speculation about the whereabouts of a missing businessman involved in the investigation. In the letter, received on October 11, embassy officials accuse the businessman, Bekhzod Akhmedov (بهزاد احمدوف), of massive fraud and suggest his Russian-based partners have helped him evade arrest. Akhmedov, in addition to being involved in the Swiss investigation, is also at the heart of an ongoing dispute between Uzbek authorities and MTS.

Akhmedov, who served as the head of MTS’s Uzbek subsidiary, fled Uzbekistan this summer amid a dispute in which Uzbek officials revoked MTS’s license and demanded nearly $1 billion in back taxes after levelling charges of financial wrongdoing. However, Akhmedov’s whereabouts is unknown. An Interpol warrant has been issued for his arrest at the request of the Uzbek government.

According to the letter from the Uzbek Embassy, a Tashkent court on September 17 found Akhmedov guilty in absentia of fraud and abuse of office. The letter describes Akhmedov as “having authorized the embezzlement of criminal funds” generated by “illegal activities between 2008 and 2012.” The article in Le Temps includes Uzbek authorities’ speculation about the whereabouts of a key figure in the case. Specifically, it accuses Akhmedov’s subsidiary, Uzdunrobita, of concocting an unspecified hoax worth 24.4 billion Uzbek soms (around $12.5 million). It also accuses Akhmedov of failing to pay a stunning 1.2 trillion soms in taxes into the national budget and of carrying out an “unauthorized” activity that generated a “net profit” of 543 billion soms. It also charges that large sums of money were sent, under the guise of a monthly salary, to accounts held by Akhmedov at the Moscow Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The letter also offers a detailed itinerary of Akhmedov’s alleged travels after leaving Uzbekistan. Citing the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office, the letter says Akhmedov fled Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan on June 6. From there, he reportedly travelled to Istanbul on June 9 and then moved on to Paris where the letter says he “settled financial problems with his foreign accounts.” From there, he purportedly travelled to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, before finally boarding a flight on June 19 to Moscow – where, the letter suggests, “he probably remains today.”

Embassy officials provide flight numbers for several legs of Akhmedov’s alleged globe-trotting and also suggest that MTS authorities helped him travel undetected by providing him with a “green corridor” into Russia, free from scrutiny from customs or other officials. “Investigations have shown that MTS will not help us establish the truth and is covering up for Bekhzod Akhmedov,” the letter says.

Assets Frozen

MTS, contacted by Le Temps, denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of Akhmedov, whom it describes as a former employee. The company also declined comment on the allegations in the Uzbek Embassy letter. Uzbek Embassy officials failed to answer questions from Le Temps regarding Akhmedov’s Swiss accounts, which are at the heart of the money-laundering investigation under way in Switzerland.

The paper reports that Swiss authorities have frozen some 600 million Swiss francs ($640 million) held in various accounts. In addition to Akhmedov, the accounts have reportedly been tied to Uzbek nationals Alisher Ergashev, Shohruh Sabirov, and Gayane Avakyan (Գայանե Ավագյան).

Ergashev and Sabirov were arrested in Geneva in late July outside Lombard Odier, the bank where several of the frozen accounts were held. Both men were executives at Coca-Cola Uzbekistan, a company formerly owned by Karimova’s ex-husband.

Avakyan is the operator of Takilant, a company at the heart of a parallel investigation under way in Sweden. Swedish prosecutors are investigating whether the partially state-owned Swedish telecommunications firm TeliaSonera illegally paid $320 million into Takilant’s offshore accounts in exchange for 3G licenses and access to the Uzbek market.

Gulnara Connection

Both the Swiss and the Swedish investigations have raised questions about possible financial connections between the four Uzbek nationals and the presidential daughter, whose personal fortune is estimated at $500 million.

Avakyan is the director of Karimova’s Dom Stilya fashion house in Tashkent and is frequently photographed with Karimova. Property documents obtained in France by Swedish journalists also established an explicit link between Karimova and Ergashev – who is also Avakyan’s partner at Takilant. Le Temps reported that the Swiss Attorney General’s Office refused to comment on the French documents.

The paper also quoted unnamed members of Geneva’s diplomatic community as saying the case was unlikely to implicate Karimova, who as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva enjoys diplomatic immunity.

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