Karimova requests ‘clemency’ from Uzbek government in exchange for relinquishing assets

28 Feb 2020

What could this mean in practice?

On Tuesday 25th February 2020, a statement on behalf of Gulnara Karimova, through her daughter’s Instagram account, was released requesting clemency and release in exchange for Karimova relinquishing her assets. According to the statement, approximately $1.2 billion USD in assets have been seized globally; with an initial portion of Swiss assets alleged to have been transferred by the Swiss Government back to Uzbekistan in January 2020.


Previous reports claimed the Uzbek state had received a portion of Karimova’s domestically held assets. Karimova’s team alleged (and then retracted) the amount totalled $1.2 billion USD. In June 2019, the Uzbek Ministry of Finance claimed to have received $20.2 million USD through the sale of seized jewellery and foreign currency funds. It’s unclear whether these ‘foreign currency funds’ were domestically held; or negotiated as part of a legal settlement to repatriate Karimova’s international assets back to Uzbekistan.


Uzbek assets: what has been their fate?

Worryingly, the fate of Karimova’s domestic assets are unknown to the public. According to the Uzbek Ministry of Finance’s Facebook statement, Karimova’s assets were likely subsumed into the national state budget. The Uzbek people are therefore not privy to:


  1. Where the assets were/are held?;
  2. Will the funds will be used towards social projects and development in remediating the harm caused to the Uzbek people?;
  3. Whether the assets themselves will be maintained with integrity free of misappropriation, re-looting or re-laundering; or if they’ve already been compromised.


The Nigeria Abacha I case saw international and domestic assets compromised. Approximately $250 million of assets still remained untraceable, largely due to the lack of transparency, accountability and due diligence from the seizure of assets to disbursement of assets. It’s unclear whether a similar story has been seen in Uzbekistan.


Asset return from Switzerland to Uzbekistan


Equally worrying are the claims made by Karimova’s camps that assets seized by the Swiss Government have already been repatriated to Uzbekistan. Whether this claim can be reverified remains to be seen. At a very basic level, it breaches the GFAR principles on the Disposition and Transfer of Confiscated Stolen Asset in Corruption Cases, signed by the Swiss Government in December 2017. In particular, commitments to transparency and accountability (Principle 4); ensuring assets are dedicated to benefitting the people of the harmed nation (Principle 5); the strengthening of anti-corruption frameworks in country in line with UNCAC standards (Principle 6), the inclusion of NGO stakeholders (Principle 10) and indeed the preclusion of benefit to offenders (Principle 9). Serious concerns should be raised over Karimova’s awareness of developments in both the negotiated agreements between two states as well as an indication of where and how assets will be disbursed. This is in the absence of any public case updates; and outside of the inclusion of civil society organisations.


Risks of misappropriation and re-laundering

We have long held concerns on the severe risks of misappropriation and re-laundering of assets back to Uzbekistan, outside of a comprehensive framework for return detailing the process for returning, disbursing and monitoring of assets—