Gulnara Karimova parlayed her position as daughter of Uzbekistan’s first post-Soviet ruler into an international symbol of kleptocracy. Reviled at home and abroad for vulgar excess, after her father’s death she was sentenced to a long prison term following a sham trial. But most of the billion or so dollars she stole remains beyond the Uzbek government’s reach, tied up in complex litigation principally in Switzerland.
Now, as she recently revealed, she is in negotiations to hand back most of what she stole – in return for her release from one of Uzbekistan’s notorious prison colonies and the right to hang onto to perhaps as much as a hundred million for herself and the lawyers and fixers negotiating the deal. Uzbek citizens and activists are in arms over this blatant attempt by a posterchild for kleptocracy to bribe her way out of prison. In an open letter, civil society activists call on the Swiss government, which would have to accede to this unseemly bargain, to repudiate it. They ask too that other government with claims over some of the assets, and thus possibly some say over the deal, to help kill it.
Allowing a kleptocrat to bribe her way out of jail sets a terrible precedent. Is it one the international community wants to see set? Do Swiss citizens really want their government to be the one setting it? Why is the Swiss government in such a hurry to return dirty money to the Uzbek government? Particularly in the face of opposition from representatives of the real victims of Karimova’s crimes, the citizens of Uzbekistan.
In their letter, the activists outline an alternative to a hasty return, one that would see Karimova held accountable in a real trial for her crimes and the stolen assets returned in ways that would advance the welfare of all Uzbeks. The English version of the letter here, the Russian one here, and the French one here.
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