"100 million dollar bribe" to Uzbek president's daughter went via Latvian bank

An indictment filed in the United States against Gulnara Karimova, the powerful daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, on charges of massive corruption, contain numerous references to her use of an unnamed Latvian bank or banks to help launder her ill-gotten gains.

The March 7 indictment says that Karimova and her co-defendant Bekhzod Akhmedov operated a massive bribery racket between 2001 and 2012, based on their control of dishing out telecoms licenses in Central Asia's most populous country.

To do this they used shell companies and complex offshoring schemes that involved huge payments via Latvian and other banks as part of the money-laundering network. In total, Karimova and her associate received $866 million dollars as bribes, the indictment claims.

Extract from Gulnara Karimova indictment

According to the indictment, in August 2004 an "approximately $100 million bribe" was paid to the account of a Karimova-controlled shell company with a bank account in Rīga.

Then in October 2008 another $5 million payment was made to a Latvian bank account.

The money didn't just flow in one direction, either: in June 2007 a shell company with a Latvian bank account transferred $20 million out of its account as part of a complex and allegedly fraudulent share purchase scheme. 

Then in November 2007, a $10 million payment moved the other way from the Netherlands to the Latvian shell company account which is described as a "bribe payment to Karimova." In August 2008 the same channel was used for another $2 million payment.

Another "corrupt payment to Karimova" worth $9.2 million was made via one of the shell company accounts in Rīga in September 2008, according to the extremely detailed indictment.

Bank accounts held in New York, Switzerland and Hong Kong also feature prominently in the indictment, which notes that the laws of the United States, the Russian Federation, the Netherlands, Uzbekistan and Sweden were broken, though there is no mention of Latvian law being broken.

“Gulnara Karimova stands accused of exploiting her official position to solicit and accept more than $865 million in bribes from three publicly traded telecom companies, and then laundering those bribes through the U.S. financial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.

"Today, my Office and our law enforcement partners are sending a bold, unequivocal message that the U.S. financial system is not in business to enable foreign bribery or money laundering.  This Office stands ready to prevent, prosecute, and penalize foreign corrupt practices wherever in the world we find them.”

In related actions, the Department of Justice has also filed civil complaints seeking the forfeiture of more than $850 million held in bank accounts in Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, which constitute bribe payments made by MTS, VimpelCom and Telia, or funds involved in the laundering of those corrupt payments to Karimova.

Law enforcement authorities in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Ireland, Isle of Man, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom were thanked for providing "valuable assistance in this case."

Following the death of her father and a fight for the Presidency of Uzbekistan, Karimova disappeared from public view but is believed to be under house arrest in the country.

For more background on the links between the former Uzbek elite and Latvian non-resident banks, this Radio Free Europe piece by Latvia's Inga Sprinģe makes good reading and suggests the names of the banks that may have been involved.

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