Monday, 15, April, 2024

Following its criminal investigation, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) on 28 September 2023 filed its indictment in the Federal Criminal Court (FCC) against Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the former President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, and the former general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecommunications company.

The two accused are in particular alleged to have participated in a criminal organisation that operated in various countries, including Switzerland. The charges cover the period from 2005 to 2013 and constitute participation in a criminal organisation (Art. 260ter Swiss Criminal Code (SCC)), money laundering (Art. 305bis SCC), acceptance of bribes as foreign public officials (Art. 322septies para. 2 SCC) and forgery of documents (Art. 251 SCC).

The indictment filed in the Federal Criminal Court is based on the following circumstances:

In response to reports of suspected money laundering (MROS reports), the OAG opened a criminal investigation in July 2012 into Gulnara Karimova’s personal assistant in connection with forgery of documents (Art. 251 SCC) and money laundering (Art. 305bis SCC), and into the former general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecommunications company in connection with money laundering (Art. 305bis SCC).

Between 2012 and 2014, the proceedings were extended to include several of Gulnara Karimova’s subordinates and Gulnara Karimova herself – once the immunity connected with her activities as a diplomat at the United Nations Office in Geneva was lifted.

Between 2018 and 2021, as part of the investigation, four persons were convicted by summary penalty order of money laundering and forgery of documents. More than CHF 340 million was definitively confiscated with a view to being returned to Uzbekistan. Currently, more than CHF 440 million in assets remains under seizure in the proceedings against Gulnara Karimova and the second accused.

In 2021, the criminal proceedings against Gulnara Karimova and the former general director were extended to include suspicions of accepting bribes as foreign public officials (Art. 322septies para. 2 SCC). A final extension of the proceedings, to include participating in and supporting a criminal organisation (Art. 260ter SCC), took place in 2022.

‘The Office’: goal and organisation

According to the indictment, at least from 2001 until 2013, Gulnara Karimova developed and directed a hierarchical criminal organisation known as ‘The Office’, comprising several dozen persons and large number of companies. In Switzerland, this organisation allegedly began its operations in 2005, in particular in order to conceal the capital originating from its criminal dealings in Swiss bank accounts and safes and by purchasing real estate.

In view in particular of its size, its mode of organisation, its infrastructures, the scale of the assets that it held and the qualifications of certain of its members, ‘The Office’ conducted its criminal activities as a professional business, complying with mandatory regulations and observing a strict allocation of tasks, while also resorting to violence and intimidation. The investigations revealed references to a hundred companies established and used in order to guarantee that the entire structure remained opaque. These companies held bank accounts in various jurisdictions, in particular Switzerland.

Activities in the Uzbek telecommunications sector

The Uzbek telecommunications sector, which saw highly dynamic development from the Year 2000 onwards, was one of the most profitable industries in the country. According to the indictment, at that time, foreign companies that wished to enter and operate in this sector were required to pay bribes to Gulnara Karimova via companies in ‘The Office’, in order that she would intervene decisively in their favour. Gulnara Karimova thus exploited her dual status as the daughter of the President and as an Uzbek public official, which allowed her to exercise unlimited influence over state officials when it came to allowing companies to enter and operate in the telecommunications sector.

Criminal dealings in Switzerland

The corrupt funds obtained from the telecommunications companies were then moved in complex operations to various bank accounts, through several countries and different companies, before being transferred in particular to bank accounts in Switzerland, opened in the name of companies in ‘The Office’. The beneficial owners of these bank accounts were ‘men of straw’, thereby concealing the fact that Gulnara Karimova was the true beneficiary. The investigations conducted in Switzerland have led to the seizure of assets totalling an amount equivalent to around CHF 780 million, comprising bank assets and real estate, as well as cash and valuables deposited in bank safes.

Allegations and role of the two accused

Gulnara Karimova is accused of being in overall charge of ‘The Office’, which constituted a criminal organisation. She is alleged to have been involved in establishing the organisation and initiating its criminal activities, and in particular in opening bank accounts in Switzerland in the name of ‘The Office’s’ members and companies, in transferring criminal assets, and in drawing up fictitious and false documents intended to justify these transfers. Alongside Gulnara Karimova, the second accused (the former general director of the Uzbek subsidiary of a Russian telecommunications company) is accused of being a ‘key member’ of ‘The Office’. In particular, he is alleged to have been involved in devising and operating corrupt schemes in the Uzbek telecommunications sector.

Case with international dimensions

The international dimension of the case has led a number of jurisdictions to open criminal investigations, often based on information provided by the OAG. Several criminal proceedings have been instigated, in Sweden, France, Norway, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom. The existence of ‘The Office’ and a multitude of crimes committed by this criminal organisation have been confirmed in several judgments issued in Switzerland and abroad. In addition, the OAG has filed and received numerous requests for mutual assistance, involving 19 countries, in connection with these proceedings.   

Request for confiscation

In connection with the indictment filed in the FCC, the OAG has also requested the confiscation of assets totalling more than CHF 440 million.

Finally, it should be noted that the criminal proceedings conducted in the same context against the private bank Lombard Odier & Cie SA, one of its former managers and persons unknown on suspicion of failing to exercise sufficient diligence in financial transactions (Art. 305ter para. 1 SCC) and aggravated money laundering (Art. 305bis no. 1 and 2 SCC) is still ongoing.

The presumption of innocence applies to both accused until a final judgment has been issued. Now that the indictment has been filed, the FCC has sole responsibility for providing further information.

Latest in National

2024-04-12