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Taking a photograph at an Independence Day celebration in Tashkent in August 2012.
Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov
Before house arrest.

Uzbekistan’s dictator is pursuing a criminal case against his eccentric daughter

By Steve LeVine

Uzbekistan authorities have identified the jet-setting eldest daughter of president Islam Karimov as a suspect in a case of extortion, blackmail and corruption, a move that could neutralize her as a future political threat.

Gulnara Karimova—who has performed as “Googoosha” in music videos, presented her “Guli” jewelry in New York and hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities—was named today in a loosely written news release (Russian) about a $194 million criminal case under prosecution in the Central Asian republic. Her name could not have been included in the release without the assent, and probably the active role, of her father, who has been one of the most brutal leaders in the world since taking power more than two decades ago.

The statement alleges that two men linked to Karimova pilfered tens of millions of dollars from the Uzbekistan arm of Coca-Cola, an oil refinery in Fergana and elsewhere. After describing the charges in detail, the statement says that the “criminal group” includes other individuals about whom authorities are still collecting evidence. Among the members of this group are Karimova, who has lived under house arrest in the capital of Tashkent since February. She has been incommunicado but managed to sneak out statements to the media.

Quite apart from the details of the murky case, the 42-year-old Karimova, a striking Harvard graduate, has infuriated her father in part for a series of tweets last year in which she aired a family dispute, according to her 22-year-old son, Islam Karimov Jr. President Karimov is also angry over a Swiss money-laundering case against his daughter and an additional corruption case involving Sweden’s TeliaSonera, her UK-based son told the Guardian. In sum, Karimov felt his daughter was tarnishing the family name.

But there also is the matter of Uzbekistan’s political future. Karimov is 76 years old and has not publicly made clear who will succeed him as president. One thing almost certain is that the successor will not be chosen democratically. His daughter once appeared to harbor political ambitions. But she is said to be despised by some important clan leaders in the country, and dismissed as a lightweight by others. Given her father’s own unhappiness with her behavior in recent years, he may be seeking to sideline her so that she does not create mischief during the succession.