Her father is tough when it comes to religion, but it looks like Gulnara Karimova is now reaching out to Muslims. Could this be, some wonder, a bid to assert herself as an inclusive candidate to succeed her father, President Islam Karimov?
The Uzdaily.uz website reports that Karimova, in her capacity as chairwoman of the Mekhr Nuri (“Ray of Mercy”) foundation, awarded grants to 20 distinguished students from ten (officially sanctioned) Islamic educational establishments in Uzbekistan on May 4.
The ceremony was held in Bukhara Region as part of a folk art festival. The Directorate of Muslims, a state body, provided organizational assistance to Karimova’s charity, Uzdaily said. Uzdaily did not specify the size of the grants, but noted that Karimova pledged to improve infrastructure at Islamic institutions as well.
Embroiled in money-laundering and bribery investigations in Switzerland and Sweden, Karimova, Uzbekistan's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, seems to be spending a lot of her time in Uzbekistan lately. Some observers believe Karimova’s active public life at home, and on Twitter, in recent months is a sign of her growing presidential ambitions as her aging father’s health is questioned.
A little-known Las Vegas-based showman crowned Karimova the "Princess of Uzbekistan" in a recent PR stunt.
But as a potential leader Karimova would inherit the nasty consequences of her father's brutal policy toward followers of Islam.
The organizers of a charity marathon in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, have cancelled the event, citing unspecified security threats.
On April 22, several organizations that have been linked in the past to the president’s flamboyant daughter, Gulnara Karimova, said in a joint statement, posted on her organization’s website, that the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure would be postponed and replaced with a charity concert on April 27 in support of "those who have suffered” from recent violence in Boston.
The decision was prompted by security concerns in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last week, the statement explains.
It is common for authorities in Uzbekistan to cite terrorist attacks abroad as a reason for beefing up security at home. That may make sense. But Uzbek authorities often are also accused of exaggerating threats to justify rounding up suspected dissidents and critics, especially practicing Muslims (which, analysts fear, simply drives believers underground and possibly into the arms of radicals).
"The events in Boston have changed the consciousness of many people," the statement from Karimova’s Fund Forum said, adding that over 222,000 people have taken part in her organization’s charity runs and football matches across Uzbekistan this year. The events were expected to culminate in the charity marathon on April 28.
It's unclear if Karimova, who records under the stagename Googoosha, will perform at the charity concert.
A report in The New York Times that Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov, has resigned as her country’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva set off a flurry of speculation about her future plans.
On April 6 The Times suggested that she was “possibly positioning herself for a larger role at home” amid uncertainty about her father’s health.
However, an official at Uzbekistan’s Geneva mission denied the report of Karimova's resignation on April 8.
“This does not correspond to reality,” a spokesperson who declined to be identified by name told EurasiaNet.org by telephone from Geneva. “Ms. Gulnara Karimova is still Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Geneva.”
Karimova is a colorful personality – a pop diva and fashion designer as well as a diplomat. Many observers believe she is positioning herself to succeed her 75-year-old father, which she pointedly failed to rule out in an interview recently made public.
The subject of the presidential succession in Uzbekistan is currently the subject of much international press speculation, prompted by a report put out by Uzbekistan’s opposition-in-exile that Karimov suffered a heart attack last month. The rumor spread like wildfire but was soon proved false.
Gulnara Karimova, Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s eldest daughter, seems to have had a change of heart: Once described as a “robber baron” for the way she used her position of privilege and power to seize successful enterprises in Uzbekistan, she’s now championing the cause of the small businessman.
The private Novyy Vek newspaper reports that Karimova has complained about the difficulties small- and medium-sized businesses face in Uzbekistan due to, in the paper’s words, “bureaucratic and other obstacles created by government agencies.”
Speaking on March 25 at the awards ceremony of a fair showcasing handicrafts made by select artisans from across Uzbekistan, Karimova described the plight of a “promising” factory in southern Surkhandarya Region that had been forced to close because of such obstacles, Novyy Vek quoted her as saying.
“Once we visited a factory in Surkhandarya and it made very beautiful items and quality carpets and silks and it had a very interesting and good team of women and girls. Generally, it was such a decent small business,” said Karimova, who has long been rumored to covet her father’s position.
“We discussed how this enterprise could supply its products to Tashkent in order expand the factory’s sales and opportunities, but several months later we learned that the enterprise was shut,” she explained, because of “difficulties” meeting raw silk quotas set by Uzbekistan’s state body overseeing the textile industry.
Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s strongman President Islam Karimov, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. But in the pages of one magazine – her own glossy published in Uzbekistan – she’s a superstar.
A recent copy of Bella Terra, a Karimova project that publishes articles and interviews on style and fashion (and which also has a website), is packed to the gills with material promoting the president’s daughter and her fashion label, Guli.
The December 2012/January 2013 issue of the Russian-language magazine is devoted to the Style.uz event, which Karimova (dubbed “the princess of Uzbekistan” in a promotional interview that recently came to light) organizes in Tashkent every year. Style.uz is a jamboree of fashion shows and cultural events that attracts the Tashkent glitterati and a handful of foreign B-list celebrities.
From the magazine we learn some fascinating facts about Style.uz: This year foreign visitors lauded Uzbekistan’s famed hospitality a full 1,467 times; 76 bottles of hairspray were used in the hairdressing competition; and 10 parachutes could have been made from the 1,050 meters of silk and adras (a silk and cotton mix) used in one fashion event.
But for the most part the magazine gets down to the serious business of promoting Karimova (who is also known as Googoosha, her stage name when she is in her pop star persona).
The Uzbek president's eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, has rarely broached the idea of succeeding her aging father, Islam Karimov – at least publicly. But the idea has cropped up repeatedly in an interview that appeared this month with a celebrity publicist.
Las Vegas-based Peter Allman, whose website describes him as “Celebrity Interviewer To The Stars and Emcee,” set the sycophantic tone right from the start: "My special guest is a visionary, very talented, very politically oriented young lady. I call her 'the princess of Uzbekistan,' if you will," he said in his introduction to the 38-minute-long exclusive, recorded on the sidelines of the Golden Guepard Tashkent International Film Forum last autumn, and since March 7 available on YouTube.
After a long chat about Karimova's charitable and creative work, Allman compared Karimova – who is also known by her stage name, Googoosha – to the late Princess Diana: "I've talked to many people. When I first met you I told you that I thought you'd be princess of Uzbekistan, meaning, like, Princess Diana was to Great Britain. And I see that you, as I imagine, have a very good soul and care about people, and that's very important."
Then he slid into the six-million-dollar question. In Allman’s “vision” Karimova would be a great president: “What are your feelings about that?"
Karimova – appearing in a black business suit and dangly silver earrings – giggled and said, in English, "this is funny," adding that both her opponents and supporters call her "princess," which is "striking for me because I'm not trying to do it for sort of career or for PR."
Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, has finally broken her long silence about allegations that she is connected to two corruption cases being investigated in Europe, complaining to Swiss magazine Bilan that her “enemies” are taking advantage of the situation to undermine her reputation and griping that the “attacks” are distracting her from her charitable work.
In the interview published March 7, Karimova launched a fierce attack on Russian telecommunications company MTS (which left Uzbekistan last year amid a furious dispute with Tashkent) and its former director, Bekhzod Akhmedov, once believed to be Karimova’s right-hand man.
Akhmedov is a central figure in two European corruption investigations: a money-laundering probe in Switzerland and a Swedish investigation into allegations that Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera made dubious payments to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market in 2007 – a probe which forced the resignation of CEO Lars Nyberg last month.
According to company correspondence filed with a Swedish court, TeliaSonera officials negotiating with Akhmedov (who was head of their rival MTS at the time) to enter the market believed he was “the telecom representative of Gulnara Karimova.”
Karimova has no official role in Uzbekistan’s telecoms sector; officially, she is Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, and she is also a fashion designer and a pop diva under the stage name Googoosha.
Coca-Cola has almost disappeared from sale in Uzbekistan, say reports from Tashkent that – if confirmed – suggest trouble may be brewing at a company linked to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov.
The soft drink is no longer on the shelves of any of the 12 Tashkent branches of the popular local Korzinka supermarket, CA-News reported on February 26, quoting a Korzinka official. The report said one branch of another Tashkent supermarket, Mega PLANET, had also run out; another had a limited supply left.
The development has sparked rumors in Tashkent that the factory bottling the drink for the local franchise, Coca-Cola Ichimligi Uzbekiston, has either closed or slowed production.
A Coca-Cola official stamped on speculation, telling Central Asia Newswire on February 26 that it was very much business as usual.
“It's an incorrect rumor," Dana Bolden, corporate communications chief of Coca-Cola’s Eurasia and Africa Group, said. “Coca-Cola has not closed or suspended anything – [the plant] is still in operation.”
Conflicting reports are still emerging from Tashkent, however: A retail trade source told EurasiaNet.org the factory was still bottling Coca-Cola in glass bottles, but not in plastic bottles.
Bolden acknowledged some supply problems, “but it's not to the extent that is being described.”
Russian telecoms giant MTS has filed for bankruptcy in Tashkent amid its long-running dispute with the Uzbek government, which is currently embroiled in telecoms scandals on several fronts.
MTS’s Uzbekistan subsidiary O’zdunrobita has petitioned for bankruptcy due to its “inability” to carry out a November court ruling ordering it to pay fines and penalties of $600 million, MTS said in a January 16 statement.
The company’s troubles began last July, when Tashkent accused it of using equipment illegally, then brought tax evasion charges, and finally shut it down.
In September, a court ordered MTS’s assets in Uzbekistan seized. To the surprise of many, that ruling was overturned on appeal in November. But with the good news came a catch: The court that overturned the assets seizure ordered MTS to pay penalties of $600 million – the approximate value of the assets the court had just returned. Some $150 million has already been seized from its bank accounts in Uzbekistan, MTS says.
MTS has protested its innocence, condemning the affair as the kind of assets grab not uncommon in Uzbekistan’s murky business climate – a charge Tashkent denies.
As a probe into allegations of shady payments in Uzbekistan by a Swedish-Finnish telecoms firm continues, fresh accusations have surfaced linking the deal directly to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, whose name has repeatedly emerged in connection with the controversy.
Swedish broadcaster SVT -- which this fall broadcast the exposé that sparked the opening of a corruption investigation in Sweden involving TeliaSonera’s acquisition of the rights to operate in Uzbekistan -- says it has interviewed two senior TeliaSonera executives who linked Gulnara Karimova to the agreement allowing the company to enter Uzbekistan’s lucrative cellphone market.
“To reach a deal with Gulnara was a prerequisite to the whole deal,” one executive (both requested anonymity) told SVT’s “Uppdrag granskning” program. The executives said TeliaSonera officials traveled to Uzbekistan in 2007 to negotiate with the president’s daughter, who has extensive economic interests in Uzbekistan. (One WikiLeaked US Embassy cable describes her as a “robber baron.”) Karimova, who casts herself a sultry pop diva and fashion designer, and is her country's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has not commented on any of the corruption allegations.
One of the sources linked Karimova to Bekhzod Akhmedov, formerly a major player on the Uzbekistan’s telecoms market and currently the prime suspect in a separate money-laundering probe under way in Switzerland.