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Published: Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 4:40:00 PM
Updated: Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 4:45:57 PM

Daughter of Uzbek president in trouble

Gulnara Karimova (left) with a model after presenting her Guli Collection at China Fashion Week in Beijing on Oct 30, 2012. In recent weeks, signs that Karimova’s star is on the wane have multiplied. – Reuters

Gulnara Karimova (left) with a model after presenting her Guli Collection at China Fashion Week in Beijing on Oct 30, 2012. In recent weeks, signs that Karimova’s star is on the wane have multiplied. – Reuters

Glamorous diplomat faces fresh problems with inquiry into payments to associates.

FOR two decades, she has been the glamorous “first daughter”, heir apparent to Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, a woman with a vast business empire and a celebrity lifestyle to boot. Gulnara Karimova has been fashion designer, pop starlet, diplomat and oligarch – she could be described as Donatella Versace, Cheryl Cole and Ivanka Trump all rolled into one.

But not any more. In recent weeks, signs that Karimova’s star is on the wane have multiplied, sparking questions about the Uzbek first family, presided over by the 75-year-old president.

Until recently, Karimova, 41, was holding down a high-powered diplomatic day job in Switzerland while commanding an extensive business empire at home, where she has been tipped as a future president – an ambition she has failed to deny.

Signs of trouble in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, emerged in July, when Karimova was dismissed from her position as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, as the tentacles of two European corruption inquiries reached close to her.

One investigation, in Sweden, is probing allegations of payments of millions of dollars by Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera to Karimova’s associate, Gayane Avakyan (the company denies wrongdoing). Another, a Swiss money-laundering inquiry, involves Karimova associates, including Avakyan, and has reportedly prompted raids on Karimova’s luxury European properties.

The pressure intensified more than a week ago when her four TV stations and three radio stations were pulled from the air. Tax raids on her charitable foundation were reported on Oct 24, shortly after her cousin and reported confidant Akbarali Abdullayev was arrested on corruption charges.

Karimova took to Twitter last week to hit out at perceived enemies, accusing national security chief Rustam Inoyatov of mounting a power grab. “If the top person in the special services takes no pleasure but rather fears her (Gulnara’s) popularity among the people, it means he has his own ambitions and plans.”

She also accused her enemies of trying to kill her. “They already tried poisoning me with heavy metals like mercury, but thanks to God they didn’t bring me down, though I’m still recovering.”

Karimova has brushed aside corruption allegations but refused to comment specifically – just as she has repeatedly shrugged off attempts to engage her over allegations of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. The West has been accused of turning a blind eye to abuses in gas-rich Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan and is a valued ally.

Karimova is an avid social networker, but she prefers tweeting about her philanthropic work, her fashion shows or her pop diva career (singing as Googoosha, her father’s nickname for her).

Concerted moves against Karimova have prompted speculation that a turf war has broken out in Uzbekistan, with powerful rivals conniving to curb her power.

“Karimova’s business interests and ambition grew too large – they started to encroach on the interests of other powerful players and at some point they decided to clip her wings,” Alex Nice, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said.

This comes amid high-stakes manoeuvring in Tashkent over who will eventually succeed the ageing president, long rumoured to be suffering ill health. Karimova is enmeshed in a bitter family feud: after her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva revealed in September that the two had been estranged for 12 years, Gulnara riposted with the eye-popping accusation that her only sibling engages in sorcery.

The jostling for power could explain the forays against his daughter, who certainly has powerful foes. WikiLeaks cables have variously described her as the “single most hated person” in Uzbekistan and a “robber baron”. In 2010, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine estimated her fortune at US$570mil (RM1.7bil).

If powerful rivals are lining up against Karimova, that begs the question of why her father is not protecting her: is he fed up with her outlandish antics, or is the wily strongman’s own influence waning after over two decades at the helm of the dictatorship?

“The affair underlines again that President Karimov may be stronger than any other individual in the political system, but he’s not stronger than the system itself and he’s not necessarily in a position to protect his daughter if she over-extends herself,” concluded Nice. – Guardian News & Media

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Uzbekistan, Uzbek, Gulnara Karimova, first daughter, heir, Islam Karimov, president

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