Uzbek Officials Respond to Money-Laundering Charges
Almost one month after an investigation by Swedish TV and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) implicated Uzbek nationals and the country's first family in a money-laundering scandal, Uzbek diplomatic officials have offered a public response to inquiries about the case. And it is quite the spin job.
The Uzbek ambassador to Switzerland wrote to the Swiss newspaper "Le Temps" about the charges filed there against three Uzbek men for laundering money through telecommunications companies.
Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, has been connected through business documents to one of them, Alisher Ergashev, an executive for Coca-Cola Uzbekistan. Karimova and Ergashev co-signed property purchases in France as owner and director of two companies, according to Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra.
But in his letter to "Le Temps," on Thursday, the Uzbek ambassador focused on another of the accused men, Bekhzod Akhmedov, who is believed to be living in Moscow. Akhmedov left Uzbekistan this summer amid a separate set of fraud charges levied at his company by the Uzbek government, Radio Liberty reports.
The ambassador's letter laid out in detail Akhmedov's charges for fraud and abuse of office, dangling a diversion he hoped would be too juicy for the media to resist. Akhmedov was convicted in absentia in September, so we will never hear his defense to these charges. But for what it's worth, his parent company has accused the Uzbek government of manufacturing the allegations in order to strip the company of assets, according to a Radio Liberty report.
The embassy was quite generous with details about Akhmedov's escape from the country - it even provided the flight numbers attached to each leg of his itinerary, though the relevance of that information is hard to determine. It is possible that the copious details about this fugitive businessman were meant to distract from more damning facts: namely, findings that tie the Karimov regime itself to the money-laundering charges. September's report by Swedish TV found that Gulnara Karimova was also closely connected to the owner of the Gibraltar-based shell company that sold $320 million in state-controlled telecom licenses in 2007.
Those connections have led many to suspect that the Gibraltar company was merely a tool the Uzbeki state used to launder its ill-begotten licensing revenues. The embassy has been less forthcoming about that, avoiding any mention so far of the telecom case or the regime's implication in money-laundering.