But there's been some back-peddling on just how close the EU has been to the president's controversial daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, who has once again been in the news with a sensational libel trial in Paris against a French journalist she has accused of libel for calling her father "a dictator" and questioning her philanthropic activities.
“Providing aid to Uzbekistan does not mean we support the regime or Karimov's daughter,” an unnamed spokeswoman from the EU told the European Voice. She did not elaborate on how the EU expected to transfer funds independently to aid projects -- unlikely in a country where grants and non-profit activity are entirely under government control.
The European Commission, which oversees programs in Uzbekistan of €36 million euro, is now denying directly giving €3.7 million to the state-controlled charity headed by the president's daughter.
Yet there are still questions to be asked, given that Europa House, the EU representation in Tashkent, hastily removed a page from its website, still in Google's cache, which seems to imply that the €3.7 million were in fact slated for disbursement through the National Center for the Social Adaptation of Children (NCSAC), chaired by Karimova-Tillyaeva.
Now the EU says only "technical assistance," i.e. consulting advice will be given to the daughter's organization. Furthermore, a tender will be held to select a European non-governmental organization to be paid to provide assistance to the NSCAC. Just as in the US, government aid to other countries often involves consulting fees and expenditures for the donors, not purely direct aid to the recipient country.
It's not yet known how these fresh statements will affect the French libel trial, where the letter which Karimova-Tillyaeva produced supposedly as a character reference from Europa House coordinator in Tashkent, Pierre-Paul Antheunissens of Belgium, now seems to be backfiring (see photo).
Antheunissens himself, appears defiant. When asked by the Telegraph to react to a statement from Human Rights Watch about the lack of credibility involved in giving grants to the state-run charity of the president's daughter, "“Sometimes you have to work with organisations like this one, and if they really provide good service to children with disabilities, then why not?” he said. As yet there has been no independent confirmation that the EU funds went to the stated purpose of mainstreaming disabled children in the public education system.
Ana Gomes, a Portuguese center-left member of the European Parliament -- the same MEP who asked some hard questions about Turkmenistan after a recent visit -- disagrees. She told that European Voice that it was "inappropriate” for the EU to fund the NCSAC and that it made “absolutely no difference” whether this involved cash or technical assistance.
The daughter of President Karimov has no credibility whatsoever to run any activities funded by the EU. When I see that so much money is spent on an organisation that has no credibility and is run by a daughter of the president I'm obviously very concerned.
Gomes has cited this scandal as yet more evidence for the need to put full-fledged EU diplomatic missions in Central Asia, rather than just consultants. She made this point about Turkmenistan as well, where she chastised EU staff for exaggerating the effectiveness of human rights programs, when her delegation could not even get to meet the few dissidents remaining in Turkmenistan.