Re:Baltica Investigates Uzbek Elites’ Business in Latvia

Published: 13 May 2016

latviaRiga, Latvia (Photo: michael/Flickr)

By Stella Roque

This week, OCCRP partner re:Baltica published a series of investigations into the business dealings of Uzbekistan’s elite in Latvia with stories of fraud, bribery and attempted assassination.

Re:Baltica found members of Uzbekistan’s first family and their circle involved in business in Latvia. One man seems intimately tied to Uzbekistan’s ruling family and their dealings in the country. His name is Gulam Gulami, a Latvian citizen of Afghan origins.

When the Uzbek president’s younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, came to Latvia in 2006 to give birth to her son, she was hosted by Gulami in their € 2 million (US$ 2.2 million) home in the Baltic sea resort town of Jurmala.

Lola’s cousin, Akbar Abdullaev, went into business with Gulami. Abdullaev purchased millions of euros worth in assets since his arrival in Latvia in 2006, according to public records seen by re:Baltica’s reporters. They included a luxury home, an apartment and a Bentley.

He made investments in two hotels with Gulami’s wife, Valentina: the five-star Royal Square Hotel & Suites in Riga for € 10 million (US$ 11.2 million) in 2007 and the Garden Palace Hotel for € 8 million (US$ 9 million) in 2008. The two went into business together purchasing the two hotels; however, the deal soured in May 2009 as Gulami continued demanding money from Abdullaev without showing any profit for the investments.

Abdullaev decided to buy out Gulami’s hotel shares in order not to lose the money he already invested into the two assets.

A Latvian businessman, Uldis Skudra, was caught in the dealings between the two men as he helped facilitate Abdullaev's buyout of the hotels from Gulami. One month before the buyout of the Royal Square Hotel, two unknown assailants beat Skudra outside his house. They were never caught. Nearly a year and a half later, Skudra and a neighbor caught an armed man outside his house who admitted to being a hitman hired to kill him. Latvian police told re:Baltica the investigation on the hitman continues as, five years later, it remains unknown who hired him.

Gulami allegedly robbed Abdullaev of the Royal Square Hotel in a complex fraud, persuading a company formation agent in Latvia that he was the owner of the management company for the hotel and that he wanted to change the company’s representative in Latvia, according to re:Baltica.

Gulami managed to restructure the company so that he became the representative. With this power, he replaced the hotel's board members and sold it to a holding company in Belize, where he was also named as representative, although the ultimate owners of that company are not known.

In the legal battles that followed over the hotel, Gulami bribed a Latvian judge with € 45,000 (US$ 50,926), re:Baltica reported. Both Gulami and the judge have been charged with bribery by Latvian authorities.

The criminal case against Gulami is ongoing in Latvia, re:Baltica said. Gulami denies any wrongdoing. The case is complicated as Abdullaev is now in prison in Uzbekistan on charges of massive corruption: allegedly collecting proceeds from state enterprises in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley.

Read this story and rest of the stories in full here.