GENEVA – Swiss authorities have opened a money laundering investigation into the eldest daughter of Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, related to the country’s telecommunications market, Switzerland’s attorney general’s office said Wednesday.
The investigation into Gulnara Karimova also has triggered new leads abroad, particularly in Sweden and France, the prosecutors’ office in the Swiss capital Bern said in a statement.
It stems from a criminal investigation in 2012 that was initially directed against four Uzbek nationals in contact with Karimova. Two of the Uzbeks were arrested that year and were freed on bail.
Swiss prosecutors say they have seized assets in excess of 800 million Swiss francs ($912 million). They say several searches in France last year triggered more investigations, and Swedish prosecutors also have been looking into the link to the Uzbek telecommunications market.
Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported that 500 million francs of the seized funds involved TeliaSonera, a major telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, and the rest involved Karimova’s personal assets.
Last year, Swedish media reported suspicions that TeliaSonera might have been involved in bribery and money laundering since signing a 2.3 billion kronor ($350 million) deal with Uzbek firm Takilant, which had ties to Karimova. That included the purchase of a 3G operating license in Uzbekistan.
Karimova, who describes herself on her Web site as a “poet, mezzo soprano, designer and exotic Uzbekistan beauty,” had diplomatic immunity as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, until she left the position last year.
After her diplomatic immunity was lifted, the prosecutors’ office said police searched her villa overlooking Lake Geneva in August.
Individuals identified as her associates were questioned by prosecutors in Uzbekistan last month over suspicions of tax evasion and concealing foreign currency.
Karimova has used her Twitter account to accuse the county’s security services of orchestrating a campaign of harassment against her and deceiving her father. Her tweets stopped last month, prompting speculation that she and her 15-year-old daughter were under house arrest in the capital, Tashkent.
UzNews, an online news portal based outside Uzbekistan but with correspondents inside the country, claimed earlier this week that Karimova had been beaten by security service guards.
Peter Leonard in Moscow contributed to this report.