First judicial success in the case of ill-gotten property. The final decision of the French justice, on Tuesday morning, paves the way for a return to Uzbekistan the property owned in France by the daughter of the late President Islam Karimov. The culmination of a long judicial investigation, unique in its kind, RFI said.
Serge Tournaire, investigating judge at the financial center of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris and Nicolas Baietto, the prosecutor at the Paris Public Prosecutor's Office are not hiding their satisfaction. The procedure initiated seven years ago against Gulnara Karimova is now closed.
From Tashkent to Geneva via London and Amsterdam, the two magistrates tracked the massive cash embezzlement of the elder daughter of the late Islam Karimov, discovering the incredible spending spree of the Uzbek princess.
Gulnara Karimova in 2016, after the death of her father Islam Karimov, became subject of the large-scale corruption cases in many countries, in Europe and the United States. The Uzbek justice accused her of being part of a criminal group controlling assets in twelve countries, including properties in London, Dubai, a castle near Paris or a villa on the Côte d'Azur in Saint-Tropez. The following year, Gulnara Karimova, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in her country for large scale fraud, embezzlement and the concealment of foreign currency, with between two and three billion dollars mentioned.
The sentence was commuted to five years of house arrest, but in March Goulnara Karimova was again sent back to prison to serve the remainder of her sentence, after breaking the terms of her house arrest and refusing to collaborate to return the funds to the state.
In a message posted a few weeks ago on Instagram, she asked the Uzbek people for forgiveness for the "deception she may have caused".
The former diplomat and pop singer also wrote that over one billion euros had been transferred from her "personal assets" to the state, in order to "serve the interests of the republic's budget," also insisting that she had given up any claim of over more than 600 million euros held in foreign banks.
Her Swiss lawyer, Gregoire Mangeat, confirmed that his client's message on Instagram was "authentic".
At the end of June, the Swiss authorities announced that they had ordered the confiscation of nearly 120 million euros, which, according to them, had been laundered in this country by a relative of Gulnara Karimova.
Switzerland at the origin of the prosecutions
Because it is in Switzerland that this business originates. The Swiss bankers have seen two relatives of the Uzbek leader's daughter arrive with curious requirements. They wanted to change the name of the economic beneficiary of a copiously stocked account. In 2012 the Swiss courts opened a preliminary investigation against Gulnara Karimova, her personal assistant, two of her collaborators and the general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecommunications company.
The Swiss authorities would seize 750 million Swiss francs. A request for mutual legal assistance was also sent to France to determine whether some of these suspicious amounts of Uzbek origin had not been laundered. Responding to Swiss investigations, the Paris prosecutor's office opened a procedure, a judicial inquiry is then entrusted to the judge Serge Tournaire, on alleged facts of "laundering by an organized gang and bribery of foreign agent."
Three properties purchased through real estate companies worth € 60 million were then identified. First there is an apartment in Paris, former property of the animator Arthur, for 30 million euros, a villa on the Côte d'Azur, in Saint-Tropez, and a castle, that of Groussay in Montfort -Amaury, near Rambouillet in the Yvelines, for some 28 million euros.
On September 5, 2014, the financial judge made three criminal seizure orders on these assets acquired between 2009 and 2011.
The French magistrates note that a dozen countries were concerned by these dirty money launderings of Uzbek origin. "Some prosecutors, wondered if this investigation was not a pretext for travels" smiles the prosecutor Nicolas Baietto, adding "when we saw that there were all these countries, including the Switzerland who had seized 750 million, we felt a bit overshadowed with our three properties. Not to mention that we did not know where we were going, we had no precedents, BMA (Badly acquired goods) was a nascent concept. It seemed impossible, for example, to hear Gulnara Karimova whose father was still in power ... and then it was necessary to unravel this bag of financial nodes.
The French magistrates discovered that the pattern of corruption used was still the same: Gulnara Karimova systematically imposed the creation of a joint venture to all Western companies wishing to work in Uzbekistan, especially on the lucrative telecommunications market.
The Swedish judicial authorities thus highlighted that in return for a telecom license, foreign companies were forced to take 26% of the shares of an Uzbek company, a real empty shell, valuing it artificially and thus allowing the payment of commissions occult.
Sale of real estate in France
In the French part, the three properties seized by the courts were entrusted to the AGRASC, the Agency for recovery of assets seized and confiscated. Justice has decided to sell these long-abandoned property and to record the sums.
What to do with the recovered sums? Some states make the choice to keep the confiscated money. The French judicial authorities have, in this case, had a very innovative approach. After the death of Islam Karimov, they realize that the country was opening, was getting democratized. Then they opted to return the sums to Uzbekistan. But to do this, it was necessary for Uzbekistan to become a civil party. "And it was not an easy task," said prosecutor Nicolas Baietto, "It took 18 months of exchanges to achieve this. It was our trip to Tashkent, with Serge Tournaire who changed the file. The Uzbeks were told that the civil suit was in their interest to be able to recover the money. The Uzbek government was delighted to see us, they were in a hurry to turn the Karimov page. She was not really popular in her country. "
The French magistrates will however specify that they will withhold from the recovered sums the expenses of investigation. The sum of two million euros was agreed. "We did not want to push the kindness to stupidity so we also wanted a piece of the cake to finance the investigation costs," said the prosecutor Nicolas Baietto, stating: "We have no tool to estimate our costs we did it in the past. "
On June 26, a plea of guilty was decided between the parties. This procedure avoids a trial to a person who acknowledges the facts alleged against him. The procedure can only be applied at the initiative of the public prosecutor. The deadline for appeal having expired, the decision became final this Tuesday, July 9, 2019.
The first judicial
In the context of ill-gotten property, this is the first time that France will return assets seized on its territory. "But we have to go back down to earth," insists prosecutor Baietto, "I'm not sure if it's simple to reproduce, there was a change of regime in Uzbekistan, that was a strike of luck."