As part of a complex criminal investigation that has been ongoing for more than six years, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has uncovered evidence of a scheme for illegally collecting large sums of money from companies, especially foreign companies, looking to enter or continue their activities on the Uzbek market. As part of the scheme the funds were then laundered abroad, primarily in Switzerland. Based on the investigations, an initial conviction has now been secured and CHF 130 million in forfeited assets will be returned to Uzbekistan.
On 8 May 2019, following two judgments of the Appeals Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court (FCC) (BB.2019.25 / BB.2019.27), a summary penalty order issued by the OAG on 22 May 2018 against a relative of Gulnara Karimova, eldest daughter of the late Islam Karimov, former President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, came into force. In Switzerland, the person convicted was particularly active between 2004 and 2013, opening bank accounts on behalf of companies in order to fragment the money transfers and prevent the origin and actual destination of the funds from being identified. He also signed false bank documents in order to conceal the identity of the true owner of the funds, Gulnara Karimova.
This conviction is part of the criminal investigation opened by the OAG in July 2012 into allegations of forgery (Article 251 Swiss Criminal Code, SCC) and money laundering (Article 305bis SCC) based on reports of suspected money laundering (from MROS) against Gulnara Karimova's personal assistant and the general manager of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecommunications company. The criminal proceedings were subsequently extended to include two of Gulnara Karimova employees, Gulnara Karimova herself – once immunity in connection with her diplomatic activity with the UN in Geneva was lifted – as well as the person convicted by the summary penalty order of 22 May 2018.
The Swiss investigation has led to criminal proceedings being opened abroad, some of which have resulted in court decisions in particular in the United States, the Netherlands and Sweden, where telecommunications companies admitted acts of corruption. In addition, in the course of the investigation, the OAG has sent and received requests for mutual legal assistance involving as many as 19 countries.
The relative of Gulnara Karimova convicted today in Switzerland was ordered to pay a monetary penalty of 130 daily penalty units of CHF 3,000 per day, i.e. a total amount of CHF 390,000; the penalty is immediately enforceable. In addition, the forfeiture of over CHF 130 million was ordered with a view to returning these funds to Uzbekistan. The sentence takes account of the fact that the person convicted is already serving a term of several years’ imprisonment in Uzbekistan. The competent department of the OAG is responsible for enforcing the summary penalty order, which was originally issued by Federal Prosecutor Patrick Lamon, who directed the investigation prior to his recusal.
In terms of the recusal decision of the FCC’s Appeals Chamber of 3 April 2019 (BB.2018.195), which the OAG has implemented since it cannot be appealed, a new prosecutor has taken charge of the Swiss criminal investigation. At present, five suspects are still under investigation and more than CHF 650 million of assets remain frozen. At this stage, the OAG is unable to provide any further information as to how the investigation may progress, and would stress that the presumption of innocence applies to all the remaining suspects.