Crossroads Asia

Karimova’s Irish Connection

If high-level talks fail, the US is poised to seize $114 million held in Irish bank accounts.

Karimova’s Irish Connection
Credit: Gulnara Karimova image via Jaguar PS /

One of the most revealing aspects about the ongoing corruption case surrounding Gulnara Karimova — the erstwhile socialite and daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov — deals with the internationality of the entire affair. The scandal surrounding Karimova, in a sense, helps sum many of the trajectories pertaining to the practice of offshorization within post-Soviet kleptocracies. The network tied to Karimova stretches from shell corporations in Gibraltar to telecoms in Scandinavia and Russia to banks in Belgium and Luxembourg, all exposed through, in large part, the United States’ enforcement mechanisms. Indeed, the transnationalism of Karimova’s racket is almost as remarkable as the fact that the total bribes linked to the former pop star run into the billions.

Now, we have a bit more information on one of the other geographic points through which Karimova’s network funneled its funds. Those watching the case for the past few months have known that Ireland was one of the nations — along with Belgium and Luxembourg — whose Bank of New York Mellon accounts were targeted by U.S. officials for involvement with Karimova. Little, however, was known about the Irish connection — or far less than the Belgian and Luxembourger involvement, the latter of which, at least, has seen its own, far more notable fiscal scandals recently.

A new report from Ireland’s Independent, however, helps fill in a few gaps about Dublin’s involvement with Karimova’s financing. As the report found, “Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of assets held in Irish bank accounts allegedly linked to Gulnara Karimova … will be seized by U.S. authorities next month if legal talks to settle one of the world’s biggest corporate bribery cases are not successful.” The report added that a stay — which will expire at the end of July — “has been put on a court order to seize” the assets, totaling $114 million, in order to “enable high-level talks” between Tashkent and Washington “in a bid to reach an out-of-court resolution.”

The new information fits with prior revelations and assumptions about the investigation, which has already proven to be the largest case ever undertaken with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The numbers within the Irish accounts alone are staggering, and only further points to the depths to which corruption has rooted itself within Uzbekistan’s elite.

The report also highlights the current state of negotiations between Washington and Tashkent, the latter of which had already requested that the funds be returned to Uzbekistan. A recent (and recommended) podcast from RFE/RL’s Qishloq Ovozi discussed potential mechanisms for returning the funds — such that the millions go toward, say, restoring Uzbekistan’s civil society, rather than end up recycled into Uzbekistan’s entrenched mechanisms of corruption. After all, there’s little reason to think that a return wholesale – with no strings or catches attached – wouldn’t result in a similar financial fallout unfurling all over again. (It’s not as if Gulnara is Karimov’s only daughter tied to shell corporations.) As to whether or not that’s actually possible, the next month-and-a-half should help provide some answers.