By John Revill
ZURICH (Reuters) -Switzerland’s federal prosecutor said on Thursday it has filed an indictment against the daughter of Uzbekistan’s former president, accusing her of taking bribes and running an elaborate criminal organisation known as “The Office”.
Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Islam Karimov – who ruled Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016 – is accused of leading the operation which allegedly channelled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bribes from telecoms companies.
She denies the allegations.
Money was funnelled through bank accounts in several countries before being transferred to accounts in Switzerland, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said.
“The beneficial owners of these bank accounts were ‘men of straw’, thereby concealing the fact that Gulnara Karimova was the true beneficiary,” the OAG said.
Huge sums were involved, with more than 340 million Swiss francs ($370 million) already confiscated with a view to being returned to Uzbekistan.
More than 440 million francs of assets remain under seizure in the proceedings against Karimova and another accused, a former general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecoms company not named in the indictment.
Karimova was once a successful businesswoman and her country’s United Nations representative in Geneva.
She is currently in prison in Uzbekistan, after being jailed in 2019 for violating the terms of her house arrest after receiving a five-year sentence in 2015 on charges of embezzlement and extortion.
Karimova contested the charges and will fight for her acquittal, her Swiss lawyer Gregoire Mangeat said.
“The criminal organisation theory is totally disputed,” he told Reuters. “It was pulled out of a hat by the Swiss Prosecutors only a year ago, 10 years after the start of their investigation.”
The OAG said that from at least 2001 until 2013, Karimova led a criminal organisation known as “The Office”, comprising several dozen people and a large number of companies which ran its criminal activities as a professional business, while also resorting to violence and intimidation.
The indictment said foreign companies that wished to operate in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector had to bribe Karimova, who “exploited her dual status as the daughter of the president and as an Uzbek public official”, giving her unlimited influence.
The case has been filed to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.
($1 = 0.9183 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Revill, additional reporting by Emma Farge, Editing by Rachel More, Alexandra Hudson and Daniel Wallis)