Corrupt daughter of Uzbek dictator has £20m UK property empire seized
£20m UK property empire belonging to Uzbek ‘princess’ who was once one of the world’s richest women before being jailed for corruption, have been seized by Serious Fraud Office after High Court ruling
- Corrupt Gulnara Karimova had her Surrey mansion and Belgravia flats seized
A dictator’s daughter who moonlighted as a pop star and diplomat before being jailed for corruption has had her luxury empire of UK properties – including two Belgravia flats and a mansion in Surrey – seized by the Serious Fraud Office.
Ex-billionaire Gulnara Karimova, whose father Islam Karimov was the former president of Uzbekistan, allegedly used UK companies to buy a swathe of swanky homes and a jet with funds obtained through bribery and corruption.
British investigators say the shamed socialite received hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes from telecommunications firms between 2004 and 2012 in return for helping them gain access to the market in Uzbekistan.
Karimova – who once enjoyed dining with former US President Bill Clinton – is currently locked behind bars in Uzbekistan serving a 13-year jail sentence for fraud and money laundering.
On Tuesday, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) took control of three of her luxury homes worth £20million after linking them to the proceeds of corruption in Uzbekistan in a move prosecutors hailed a victory in the UK’s war to ‘root out dirty money’.
Ex-billionaire Gulnara Karimova, whose father Islam Karimov was the former president of Uzbekistan’s has had her three luxury UK homes worth £20million seized by the authorities
Karimova (pictured, left) with former US President Bill Clinton at an AIDS charity fundraising dinner in Antibes, France in 2009
Karimova (pictured) saw herself as a catwalk model, pop star, socialite, fashion designer, political scientist and foreign diplomat
The Uzbek Supreme Court granted permission for the SFO to personally serve Karimova and her jailed lover, Rusam Madumarov, with a Civil Recovery claim issued by the High Court in London, reports the i.
The writs were served on both Karimova and Madumarov, on December 22, 2020. Luxury properties linked to Karimova have also been seized by authorities in France.
READ MORE: Uzbek princess once one of the world’s richest women and a friend of British royal family is jailed for 13 years after £1.7bn corruption trial
Among the properties now seized included Karimova’s £18.4million Surrey mansion, Gorse Hill Manor, her £3.68million flat in Market Mews, Belgravia, and her £1.11million home Chesham Place, Belgravia.
Speaking of the investigation, SFO director Lisa Osofsky, said: ‘We unpicked a complex financial trail, involving multiple off-shore accounts and companies, to take control of these properties. This ruling is a step forward in our case and in our ongoing efforts to root out dirty money from the UK.’
Uzbekistan’s Justice Ministry says it has already obtained assets worth more than $130m (£102m) from luxury properties linked to Karimova.
It said authorities in Switzerland, the US, France, Russia, as well as other nations have returned some of Karimova’s assets, which it says were ‘earned through criminal activities.’
Harvard-educated Karimova – a judo black belt who at the height of her nepotistic power was the wealthiest woman oligarch in the former Soviet Union as well as a pop star, catwalk model, socialite, fashion designer, foreign diplomat, heir apparent, and, in her own words, an ‘exotic Uzbekistan beauty’.
Once the most powerful woman in central Asia, and with friends among the British royal family and across the West, Karimova had previously seen herself as an heir or kingmaker, yet she was also mired in corruption scandals.
Former British ambassador Craig Murray even went as far as describing her as a beautiful but deadly James Bond villainess
Among the properties now seized included Karimova’s £18.4million Surrey mansion, Gorse Hill Manor, her £3.68million flat in Market Mew (which is pictured)
Karimova’s £1.11million home Chesham Place, Belgravia (pictured) was also seized by the SFO following its lengthy investigation
Former British ambassador Craig Murray even went as far as describing her as a beautiful but deadly James Bond villainess. ‘Gulnara Karimova is one hell of a package. Richer than Paris Hilton, undeniably smarter and arguably sexier – and I’ve met both,’ he said.
‘Harvard MBA, owner of scores of businesses, martial arts black belt, fluent in four languages, professional jewellery designer, poet and performer of a number one hit pop single.’
‘Her muscle-bound boyfriend walks respectfully behind her, head bowed. If you look very closely, you can make out that she is not 21 but 35.’
At one point, Karimova was tipped to succeed her father, who ruled Uzbekistan as from 1989 until his death in 2016. She appeared in pop videos under the stage name ‘Googoosha’, ran a jewellery company and served as ambassador to Spain.
But then in 2014 she vanished from public view. It later emerged she’d been detained on corruption charges while her father was still in power – with outlandish claims in 2016 reporting she had been fatally poisoned while under house arrest.
In 2010 Der Spiegel magazine claimed Karimova’s personal wealth was an estimated £457million
She was later sentenced in December 2017 but was sent to jail for breaching the terms of her house arrest. She has been locked away ever since.
Prosecutors would later accuse of being part of a criminal gang that controlled assets of more than $1bn (£760m) in 12 countries, including the UK, Russia and United Arab Emirates.
‘The Karimova case is one of the largest bribery and corruption cases of all time,’ Tom Mayne, one of the researchers on the Freedom For Eurasia which published a report into her corrupt activities.
The study, entitled ‘Who Enabled the Uzbek Princess?’, found Karimova bought several properties worth an estimated £50million – including three flats in Belgravia, a house in Mayfair and an £18million Surrey manor house, with its own private boating lake.
Two of the Belgravia flats were sold in 2013 before Karimova was detained. In 2017, the house in Mayfair, the Surrey mansion and a third flat in Belgravia were frozen by the SFO.
Once the most powerful woman in central Asia, and with friends among the British royal family and across the West, Karimova had previously seen herself as an heir or kingmaker
Her father Islam Karimov (pictured, right with Putin in 1999) ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist from independence in 1991 until his death earlier this year
Karimova’s boyfriend, Madumarov, and others alleged to be associates of hers were listed in official documents as the ‘beneficial owners’ – a legal term for the person who ultimately is in control – of companies based in the UK, Gibraltar and the British Virgin Islands. But the report says they were just proxies for Karimova, who used the firms to launder hundreds of millions of dollars.
Accountancy services for two UK companies linked to Karimova – Panally Ltd and Odenton Management Ltd – were provided by SH Landes LLP, a firm formerly located on New Oxford Street in London.
In late July 2010, SH Landes sought to register or acquire another company. The aim was to purchase a private jet for around $40m (£33m), with Madumarov named as the beneficial owner. In fact, according to the report, Karimova was really behind the purchase.
Despite her illustrious titles, Karimova was deeply unpopular among ordinary Uzbek people and was even banned from her father’s funeral.
A diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks revealed they saw her as ‘a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way’.
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