Gulnara Karimova: How Uzbekistan’s President’s Daughter Built a £200m Property Empire


The dictator’s daughter, who worked as a pop star and diplomat, spent $240m (£200m) on properties from London to Hong Kong.

Gulnara Karimova used British companies to buy houses and a plane with funds obtained through bribery and corruption, according to a study by Freedom For Eurasia.

It is added that accounting firms in London and the British Virgin Islands acted for the interests of British companies involved in the transactions.

The story raises new doubts about Britain’s efforts to combat illicit wealth.

British authorities have long been accused of not doing enough to prevent criminals from abroad using UK property to launder money.

The report said the ease with which Karimova obtained property in the UK was “disturbing”.

There is no suggestion that those working at companies associated with her were aware of any connection with her, or that the source of the funds could have been suspicious. No one who provided these services in the UK was investigated or fined.

For a time, Gulnara Karimova was seen as the successor to her father, Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan as president of the Central Asian nation from 1989 until his death in 2016. She appeared in pop videos under the pseudonym “Googoosha”, managed a jewelry company. and was ambassador to Spain.

But then in 2014, she disappeared from sight. It was later revealed that she was arrested on corruption charges while her father was still in power and sentenced in December 2017. In 2019, she was sent to prison for violating the conditions of house arrest.

Prosecutors accused her of being part of a criminal ring that controlled more than $1 billion (£760 million) in assets in 12 countries, including Britain, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. “The Karimova case is one of the biggest bribery and corruption cases of all time,” said Tom Mayne, one of the researchers of the Freedom For Eurasia report and a research fellow at the University of Oxford.

Gulnara Karimova in Monaco, 2012
Image caption Gulnar Karimov in Monaco, 2012

However, Karimova and her associates have already sold part of the property allegedly acquired with corruption funds.

Freedom For Eurasia examined property and land registry records to identify at least 14 properties that were allegedly purchased before she made the arrests with allegedly suspicious funds in various countries, including the UK, Switzerland, France, Dubai and Hong Kong.

In a report to be published on Tuesday, March 14, titled “Who Made the Uzbek Princess?” refers to five properties bought in and around London, now worth an estimated £50 million, including three flats in Belgravia, west of Buckingham Palace, a house in Mayfair and an estate in Surrey worth £18 million pound with private boating lake.

Two apartments in Belgravia were sold in 2013 before Karimova’s arrest. In 2017, a house in Mayfair, a mansion in Surrey and a third flat in Belgravia were frozen by the Serious Fraud Office.

The Freedom For Eurasia report also names firms in London and the British Virgin Islands that are said to have been used by Karimova or her associates to allow them to spend the proceeds of crime on real estate and a private jet.

Karimova’s boyfriend, Rustam Madumarov, and others now believed to be her accomplices were listed in official documents as the “beneficial owners” (the legal term for the person who ultimately controls) of companies located in the UK, Gibraltar and Britain. Virgin Islands. But the report says they were only proxies for Karimova, who used the firms to launder hundreds of millions of dollars.

Accounting services for two British companies linked to Karimova – Panally Ltd and Odenton Management Ltd – were provided by SH Landes LLP, which was previously based in New Oxford Street, London.

At the end of July 2010, SH Landes tried to register or acquire another company. The aim was to purchase a private jet for around $40m (£33m), of which Madumarov was named as the beneficial owner. In fact, according to the report, Karimova was indeed behind the purchase.

Gulnara Karimova's former property in London was confiscated by the Serious Fraud Service
image captionKarimova’s former property in Mayfair, London, was seized by the Serious Fraud Office

When asked at the time about the source of his funds, S.H. Landes said, “We believe that the question of his personal wealth is irrelevant in this situation.” Apparently, this happened due to the fact that Madumarov did not provide the money for the purchase of the plane from his personal funds.

The London-based firm later said that Madumarov’s wealth came partly from the Uzbek mobile phone company Uzdonrobita. There were already questions about possible connections between the company and Karimova. As far back as 2004, an article for the Moscow Times claimed that Karimova withdrew about $20 million from Uzdunrobita using fraudulent invoices. The former adviser also accused Karimova of “racketeering”.

Because it was a high-value transaction involving a high-risk jurisdiction, Uzbekistan, the report said SH Landes should have conducted “enhanced due diligence” — a thorough background check to ensure the source of the funds was legitimate and not criminal-related. activity .

SH Landes also submitted the financial statements of Panally Ltd for the year 2012. The report says that it was signed in September 2013 by a close associate of Karimova’s: Gayane Avakyan, who was then 30 years old.

Last year, the BBC published claims that Avakian was the registered beneficial owner of Gibraltar-based Takilant, which was at the center of a “multi-million dollar fraud and high-level corruption scandal in Uzbekistan”.

In a statement to the BBC, Stephen Landes said: “SH Landes LLP was never involved with Gulnara Karimova. SH Landes LLP acted on behalf of Rustam Madumarov.

“SH Landes LLP has conducted due diligence on all of its clients, the relevant regulatory authorities have been notified and assessed.”

Tom Mayne of Freedom For Eurasia said the apparent ease with which Karimova was able to acquire so many properties in the UK was worrying.

“It took the authorities until 2017 to do something, years after other countries had already frozen bank accounts and assets belonging to her,” he added.

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