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The daughter of a dictator has spent US$240 million (about R$1.25 billion) buying real estate in various places around the world, ranging from London to Hong Kong in China, according to a report by Freedom for Eurasia.
Gulnara Karimova, who was also a “pop star” and a diplomat, is the daughter of Islam Karimov, who was President of Uzbekistan from 1990 until his death in 2016.
The organization’s report indicates that it used British companies to buy homes and a private plane with money obtained through bribery and corruption.
The organization also claims that accounting offices in London and the British Virgin Islands act on behalf of the British companies involved in the negotiations.
This new allegation raises more questions about the UK’s efforts to tackle illicit wealth.
British authorities have long been accused of not doing enough to prevent foreign criminals from using UK property to launder money.
The report states that Karimova was able to purchase property in the UK with “disturbing” ease.
There is no indication that the people representing the companies knew of any connection between them and the purchases, nor that the source of the funds could be suspicious. No service provider in the UK has been investigated or fined.
Gulnara Karimova, for some time, considered succeeding her father in the presidency of the country, located in Central Asia.
She appeared in pop videos under the stage name Googoosha, ran a jewelry store and was Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Spain. But she disappeared from public life in 2014.
Then, news emerged that Karimova had been arrested on corruption charges while her father was still in power and was convicted in 2017. Two years later, she served her sentence in prison for violating the terms of her house arrest.
Prosecutors have accused her of being part of a criminal group that controls more than $1 billion (about R$5.2 billion) in assets from 12 countries, including the United Kingdom, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
“The Karimova case is one of the largest bribery and corruption cases ever,” says Tom Mayne, a researcher at the University of Oxford, UK. Participate in the research for the Freedom for Eurasia Report.
But Karimova and her associates have already sold some real estate allegedly acquired with corrupt money.
Freedom for Eurasia searched property records and identified at least 14 properties that the organization says it acquired prior to the arrest, allegedly for obtaining funds from suspicious sources. The properties are located in many countries, including the UK, Switzerland, France, Dubai and Hong Kong.
Worthy Who enabled the Uzbek princess? (“Who made the Uzbek princess viable?”, in free translation), the report focuses on five properties purchased in the London area, with an estimated value of around £50 million (about R$314.5 million).
These properties include three apartments in Belgravia, within walking distance of Buckingham Palace, a house in Mayfair (Westminster) and a mansion in the Surrey countryside, southwest London, with a private lake worth £18 million (about R$113.2 million).
Two of the apartments were sold in Belgravia in 2013, before Karimova’s arrest. In 2017, the Mayfair home, a Surrey mansion and a third apartment in Belgravia were frozen by the Serious Fraud Office, the UK’s anti-fraud office.
The Freedom for Eurasia report also cites companies in London and the British Virgin Islands that Karimova or her associates allegedly used to allow them to spend criminal proceeds on the purchase of real estate and a private jet.
Rustam Madumarov, a friend of Karimova’s, and others who are purported partners of hers, are mentioned in official documents as “useful owners”—a legal term referring to the person who actually controls—of companies based in the UK, Gibraltar, and Gibraltar in the British Virgin Islands. .
But the report claims that they were merely proxies for Karimova, who used the companies to launder hundreds of millions of dollars.
Accounting services for two British companies associated with Karimova – Panally Ltd. and Odenton Management Ltd. – Supplied by SH Landes LLP, formerly office in New Oxford Street, London.
At the end of July 2010, SH Landes attempted to register or acquire another company. The goal was to buy a private jet for about $40 million (about R$208.8 million).
Madumarov will be named as the beneficial owner. But, according to the report, in fact, Karimova was behind the purchase.
Asked at the time about the source of the funds, S.H. Landes replied, “We believe that the question of your personal wealth has nothing to do with this situation.”
Apparently, the response referred to the fact that the money for the purchase of the plane was not provided by Madumarov from his personal funds.
The London company later claimed that Madumarov’s fortune came in part from an Uzbekistan-based mobile phone company called Uzdonrobita.
Questions have already been raised about possible links between that company and Karimova. In 2004, a report in the Moscow Times alleged that Karimova embezzled about US$20 million (about R$104.4 million) from Uzdonrobita, using false invoices. A former adviser also accused Karimova of extortion.
As this was a high-value transaction involving a high-risk jurisdiction such as Uzbekistan, the report argues that SH Landes should have done “more due diligence”, with thorough background checks, to ensure that the source of funds was legitimate and not derived from criminal activities.
SH Landes also provided the balance sheet of Panally Ltd for 2012. The report states that the balance sheet was signed in September 2013 by a close associate of Karimova – Gyan Avakian, who was 30 years old at the time.
The previous year, the BBC had published allegations that Avakian was the registered beneficial owner of Takilant, a Gibraltar-registered company implicated in “a multimillion-dollar fraud and corruption scandal in Uzbekistan”.
In a statement to the BBC, Stephen Landes said: “SH Landes LLP never addressed Gulnara Karimova. SH Landes LLP acted on behalf of Rustam Madumarov.”
“SH Landes LLP has carried out due diligence on all of its clients and the relevant regulatory authorities have been notified and informed,” he said.
Tom Mayne of Freedom for Eurasia says the apparent ease with which Karimova’s company has been able to buy up so much UK property is worrying.
“The authorities only took action in 2017, years after other countries had already frozen their bank accounts and assets,” Mayne adds.
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