A new Freedom For Eurasia investigation has exposed how Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Islam Karimov, who controlled Uzbekistan as president from 1989 until his death in 2016, spent $240 million (£200 million) on homes from London to Hong Kong while functioning as an ambassador for her country.
According to the study, Gulnara Karimova used UK corporations to purchase properties and a jet using cash gained through bribery and corruption, while accountancy firms in London and the British Virgin Islands acted for UK companies engaged in the transactions.
The ease with which Karimova got UK property was seen as “concerning” in the report.
According to the report, there is no evidence that employees working for the companies related to her were aware of any connection to her, nor that the source of cash was suspect.
Gulnara Karimova was once expected to succeed her father. She performed in pop videos as “Googoosha,” operated a jewelry company, and served as ambassador to Spain.
She then vanished from public eye in 2014. She was arrested on corruption accusations while her father was still in power, and she was jailed in December 2017. She was sentenced to prison in 2019 for violating the terms of her home arrest.
Prosecutors accused her of being part of a criminal group that controlled assets of more than $1bn (£760m) in 12 countries, including the UK, Russia and United Arab Emirates. “The Karimova case is one of the largest bribery and corruption cases of all time,” says Tom Mayne, one of the researchers on the Freedom For Eurasia report and a research fellow at the University of Oxford.
But, Karimova and her associates had already sold part of the allegedly corruptly acquired property.
Freedom For Eurasia investigated property and land registry data to discover at least 14 properties purchased with potentially dubious monies before she was detained in countries such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Dubai, and Hong Kong.
The report, titled Who Enabled the Uzbek Princess?, will be released on Tuesday 14 March and focuses on five properties purchased in and around London that are now worth an estimated £50 million, including three flats in Belgravia, just west of Buckingham Palace, a house in Mayfair, and a £18 million Surrey manor house with a private boating lake.
Two of the Belgravia flats were sold in 2013, before to Karimova’s arrest. The Serious Fraud Office froze the Mayfair house, the Surrey mansion, and a third flat in Belgravia in 2017.
Rustam Madumarov, Karimova’s lover, and others now believed to be her collaborators were named in official records as the “beneficial owners” – a legal phrase for the person who ultimately controls – of companies based in the United Kingdom, Gibraltar, and the British Virgin Islands. But, according to the investigation, they were merely proxies for Karimova in the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Accountancy services for two UK companies linked to Karimova – Panally Ltd and Odenton Management Ltd – were reportedly provided by SH Landes LLP, a firm formerly located in London.
In late July 2010, SH Landes sought to register or acquire another company with Madumarov named as the beneficial owner.
When asked at the time about the source of his funds, SH Landes replied: “We believe that the question regarding his personal wealth is not relevant in this situation.” This was seemingly because the money to buy the jet were not being provided by Madumarov out of his personal funds.