High-profile trial against Gulnara Karimova held in secrecy, challenging Uzbekistan’s reform commitments

13 Jan 2020

Fatima Kanji


Last week it was announced a new case against Gulnara Karimova, daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, had taken place at Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court in Tashkent. This criminal case against Karimova began on the 8th January 2020 behind closed doors.


Case background

In August 2019, the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s Office announced it was launching a fresh investigation into a new criminal case against Gulnara Karimova and her associates, on charges of embezzlement of budgetary funds, extortion and money laundering in foreign jurisdictions. In December 2019, the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s office declared another criminal case against Karimova would be launched ‘due to newly discovered circumstances’. On Monday 6th January 2020, the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s office announced it had concluded its investigation, with the trial commencing merely two days later.


This fresh prosecution – which took place behind closed doors – allegedly involved two cement factories owned by Kuvasaycement JSC and Bekabadcement JSC. Karimova is accused having acted in collusion with her co-conspirators and acquired state-owned shares at reduced prices, and then selling them to foreign investors at a higher price, which the Uzbek General Prosecutor described as having “caused damaged to the interests of the republic on an especially larger scale”. It is alleged by Karimova’s Swiss lawyer that Uzbek prosecutors arriving with armed presence to pressure her to court, with Karimova being without defence representation.



Maintaining a high-level of integrity is crucial during any legal proceedings in ensuring the rights of victims and their access to justice; as well as the rights of the accused and their right to equality of arms. The international case against Karimova in the telecommunication scandal includes criminal prosecutions and civil actions spanning various jurisdictions including the United States (which includes a US Presidential Executive Order of Sanctions under the Magnitsky Act), United Kingdom, Sweden, Ireland and others. The case itself details extensive evidence on Karimova’s organised crime syndicate, their modus operandi and provides insights into how Karimova and her associates were able to favourably leverage her political power to their advantage. The ultimate aim: financial and political currency. There is, therefore, significant evidence Karimova was engaged in a pattern of illicit conduct centring on extortion, bribery, and embezzlement. There is also evidence demonstrating Karimova monetised her ability to influence government institutions and its officials. Karimova and her syndicate had a direct part to play in compromising the independence of institutions including the judiciary; and acting outside of the interests of the people of Uzbekistan – the ultimate victims of corruption.


The Uzbek judicial system from a baseline perspective has a responsibility to maintain the highest levels of integrity in enshrining the principles of due process and rights to fair trial. It has a dual responsibility to respecting the rights of the accused, upholding the principle of equality of arms as well as providing them with knowledge of the charges against them, the evidentiary basis upon these charges are founded and the opportunity to present a defence against those charges in open session to an independent court within a reasonable timeframe. The victims of corruption – the people of Uzbekistan – should be afforded every possible opportunity to understand the harm which occurred in open court, to scrutinise the documentary evidence including the methods and permissive structures which facilitated the crime, and demand redress for the harms committed. Anything outside of this jeopardises the integrity of due process and rights to fair, and risks replicating the permissive, compromised system of governance which had permitted Karimova to act with impunity in the first place.


Recent developments in the Karimova case suggest an ongoing lack of judicial independence in the Uzbek legal process; and a lack of political integrity in the Uzbek governance and decision-making processes more broadly. It unfortunately confirms concerns raised by Uzbek and international civil society, over the capacity of Uzbek officials to administer justice in a fair, impartial, and open manner in a way that conforms to international human rights obligations. It strongly suggests that robust administrative scaffolding, international oversight and public transparency, will be required to ensure the integrity in the international asset return process of Karimova’s assets back to Uzbekistan.