- U.S. demand for $550 million stems from VimpelCom bribe probe
- Shell companies were used to hide bribes to enter Uzbek market
The Harvard-educated daughter of Uzbekistan’s president and several of her closest associates ignored a U.S. government demand to turn over more than $550 million held in Swiss bank accounts linked to an international money-laundering conspiracy.
The U.S. Justice Department now wants Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, and the others to be held responsible for the payment. Prosecutors made the request in a letter to a Manhattan federal court judge on Thursday, saying Karimova and the group failed to respond to a civil forfeiture complaint against three bank accounts.
That complaint, filed in February, didn’t name Karimova, referring only to corrupt payments made to “Government Official A, a close relative of a high-ranking Uzbek government official.” The new request names her and others described as a close associate and a former boyfriend.
The request for a default order puts pressure on Uzbekistan’s government as the U.S. seeks to resolve a wide-ranging bribery probe into mobile operator VimpelCom Ltd., which in February announced a $795 million settlement with U.S. and Dutch authorities relating to its subsidiary in Uzbekistan.
Federal prosecutors say VimpelCom and two other telecoms made more than $800 million in corrupt payments from 2004 to 2012 to shell companies controlled by Government Official A in order to enter the Uzbek market.
"The corruption proceeds were laundered through a complex series of monetary transactions, including through bank accounts in Switzerland" and then transferred to the U.S. through the New York offices of banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG, prosecutors said in the civil forfeiture suit against the accounts.
Swiss prosecutors and police raided Karimova’s Geneva mansion in 2013 as they searched for evidence in their own investigation of suspected money-laundering and fraud offenses related to telecommunications contracts in Uzbekistan.
Karimov’s press office in Tashkent, and Uzbekistan’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment on the request.
Amsterdam-based VimpelCom’s settlement in February was the second-largest penalty levied for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribing officials to win business. Karimova was not charged in the case.
The accord was part of a wider, years-long, investigation by U.S., Dutch, Swedish and Swiss authorities into claims that VimpelCom, partly owned by Russian billionaires, along with Mobile TeleSystems PJSC and TeliaSonera AB. VimpelCom and its subsidiary Unitel paid more than $114 million in bribes, prosecutors said.
The case is U.S. v. All Funds Held in Account Number CH1408760000050335300 at Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie Bank, Switzerland, on behalf of Takilant Ltd., and any property traceable thereto, 16-cv-01257, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)>