Uzbekistan – The president, the daughters and the succession struggle

Last week, ten associates and allies to Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s daughter, were arrested in Tashkent amid accusations of forgery, illegal business activities, money laundering, tax evasion, and the illegal export of large amounts of hard currency. This is the last chapter of a struggle within the Uzbek elite involving Gulnara Karimova and her business network, the head of the security services and members of her family ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2015.

The issue of the succession to Islam Karimov has been high in the political agenda of the country since March 2013, when the 76-years old president was rumoured to have suffered a heart attack. Karimov has been ruling Uzbekistan since independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and several contenders for succession exist among the regime’s apparatchiks. One is Rustam Inoyatov, the head of the National Security Service, considered to be the country’s second most powerful man. Other candidates are Rustam Azimov, the first deputy prime minister, as well as Minister of Finance, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has been prime minister since 2003, and Gulnara herself.

Gulnara Karimova is a 42-year old businesswoman, pop diva, fashion designer and diplomat. She is under judicial investigation, having been accused of corruption and money laundering connected to her financial and business activities in Sweden and Switzerland, where Avakiyan and other three alleged Karimova’s associates, today detained in Uzbekistan, are also being investigated. Furthermore, several media outlets connected to the Terra Group, a media holding controlled by Karimova, have been taken off the air, as the group is investigated for bribe-taking. In November 2013, Karimova accused the chief of the country’s National Security Service, Rustam Inoyatov, of conspiring against her.

The elite feuding started last September, when Gulnara’s younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, dismissed Gulnara’s chances of succeeding her father as the next Uzbek president. Gulnara reacted by suggesting that Lola Karimova’s business activities were not fully legal, and by accusing her sister of mounting a campaign against her at the instigation of the National Security Service. Other accusations have involved Gulnara’s mother Tatiana Karimova, Inoyatov and other National Security Service staff. Traditionally above the law, the Security Service found itself under pressure for being accused of eroding President Karimov’s confidence in his daughter. Gulnara also carried updates on staff members at her various ventures whom she said had been arbitrarily detained by the Security Services.

Many analysts believe such a campaign against Karimova’s person and business empire could not have happened unless her father sanctioned it, but Gulnara declared that her father is not behind her ‘fall from grace’.

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