Uzbek civil society concerns vindicated in Karimova case developments

02 Aug 2019

Fatima Kanji

Earlier this week, Uzbek civil society published a statement responding to developments in the Gulnara Karimova asset return case in France and Switzerland. This included a brief assessment of the Uzbek Government’s integrity as a trusted negotiating partner following the disclosure of the confidential terms agreed between Karimova and the Uzbek Government negotiating her incarceration and potential release. These concerns were substantiated following news the Uzbek Government had gifted one of Karimova’s former residence (complete with a hotel building, three swimming pools and an amphitheater) to the Uzbek Triathlon Federation headed by the son-in-law of President Mirziyoyev (current President of Uzbekistan).


The statement – written in English, Russian and French – urges asset-holding states a: re-trial of Karimova and associated accomplices, guaranteeing due process and rights to fair trial in an open and transparent manner, ensuring public accessibility to proceedings. They further request repatriated assets to be handled in the spirit of a state’s duty-bearing obligations under international human rights law, anti-corruption law and asset return best practice; and to return assets only after comprehensive anti-corruption reforms are implemented to prevent non-reoccurrence.


A trusted negotiating partner? Assessing the integrity of the Uzbek Government

Most notably, Uzbek civil society assessed the Uzbek Government’s conduct and commitment to upholding the independence of the rule of law and judicial processes as being ‘clear parodies of justice’. Karimova’s daughter alleged a “court case” had taken place in Karimova’s kitchen at her home in August 2015, which included a ‘judge, prosecutors and a government-appointed defense lawyer’, the latter ‘so nervous she was shaking’. This also resulted in Karimova’s sentencing. It was recently alleged Karimova had cut a deal with the Uzbek Government to secure her release and access to healthcare abroad, in exchange for relinquishing $1.2 billion USD in domestically held assets in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek Department of Treasury confirmed it had received 2 tranches of funds of approximately $20.2 million in 2018; and $11.8 million USD in 2019.[1] This has been coupled with long-held concern by Uzbek and international civil society on the sanctity of responsible asset return to Uzbekistan citing a lack anti-corruption governance frameworks; as well as the need to ensure the negotiated framework for return included enhanced due diligence and oversight provisions.


This damming prognosis has now been issued against the back-drop that one of Karimova’s palatial former residences in Uzbekistan had been gifted to the Uzbek Triathlon Federation, headed by none other than the son-in-law of President Mirziyoyev. This recent development plays directly into the concerns raised by Uzbek and international civil society organisations and academics (see here and here). It starkly questions the intentions of the Uzbek Government, their ability to negotiate, manage and disburse assets with integrity; and their genuine commitment to broader reform. Asset-holding governments – particularly the French and Swiss who are set to return Karimova’s assets – are urged to take heed of recent developments and not adopt a rudimentary process-driven return, but acutely assess the contextual framework within which asset return will take place, and institute a comprehensive framework along with monitoring mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the return as well as prevent reoccurrence.