Allegations of torture have dogged the planned return of stolen assets from Switzerland to Uzbekistan for years (here). In a recent interview, a cellmate of one of the alleged torture victims has given the claims new life. And should give Swiss citizens and their government pause before proceeding with any return.
The assets to be returned are the several hundred million dollars in bribes paid to Gulnara Karimova for the grant of mobile phone licenses in Uzbekistan, something within her power as daughter of the country’s then president. She stashed most of the money in Switzerland, and when the scheme was exposed, Swiss prosecutors promptly opened a money laundering case against Gulnara and her accomplices. From the outset, the Swiss government made it clear that, if and when defendants were found guilty, the laundered funds would be returned to Uzbekistan.
A breakthrough came in 2018 when Gayane Avakyan, one of Gulnara’s accomplices, signed a Swiss Summary Penalty Order confessing to her role in the money laundering scheme and giving up any claim to the laundered funds. The order was signed while she was serving time in an Uzbekistan prison, and because of multiple, credible reports that torture is commonly practiced in Uzbek prisons, questions were immediately raised about whether torture or the threat of torture was used to get Avakyan to sign. A prison cellmate now says she was in fact subjected to a particularly harsh form of torture while incarcerated. Continue reading