It is now important that Prime Minister Mirzieyev – who appears to be in control in Uzbekistan at the moment – produces Gulnara Karimova and shows that she is alive and healthy. The whereabouts of her daughter Iman are also obscure.
Twelve years ago President Karimov jailed his own nephew, Jamshid Karimov, for the “crime” of writing an article in a state publication which suggested modest improvements to his uncle’s economic policies. Like other prominent dissidents, young Karimov ended up chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward being pumped mind altering drugs to re-educate him.
Nevertheless, when President Karimov’s daughter Gulnara was confined to house arrest two years ago, I was inclined to view it more as protective detention than real incarceration. Gulnara was wanted on fraud and corruption charges in Sweden, Switzerland, France and the USA. The US government has demanded she forfeit 550 million dollars. Her “detention” in Uzbekistan prevented her being subject to an embarrassing trial in a foreign state. Besides her ability to tweet and send sorrowful photos from her house arrest seemed to argue against real detention. But 18 months of complete disappearance have caused me to worry. Another interpretation, to which I now tend, was that in his declining years Karimov was not all powerful and became unable to protect Gulnara from Mirzieyev and security service chief Inoyatov. Though it still remains possible that he incarcerated his own daughter to an uncertain fate – after all his funeral just took place with not even the western obituaries mentioning the existence of his eldest child, a discarded son from his first marriage.
There is no doubt that Karimov did think of Gulnara as a potential successor – or at least in that unenlightened country, in conjunction with a suitable husband. Mansur Maqsudi was a surprisingly good choice, but he proved unwilling to put up with Gulnara’s blatant infidelities and they divorced. The private lifestyle of the Karimovs got rare public exposure when the New Jersey divorce settlement awarded Gulnara, for example, her US $4.5 million worth of personal jewellery.
There was no sign of Gulnara at her father’s funeral. It is rumoured, and not impossible, she has been moved to Israel under an assumed name. On the other hand she could be dead. While I believe her to be involved in numerous crimes including corruption, sex-trafficking and conspiracy to murder, I should like to see her tried rather than murdered, and the Uzbek regime should now be asked to produce her – not least to help numerous investigations worldwide into mafia operations.
I have long expected Mirzieyev to take over as President, but I am happy to say I do not believe the corrupt system in Uzbekistan will last much longer. Uzbekistan has become a remittance economy. The highest single source of revenue was remittances from Uzbeks working abroad, mostly in Russia and Kazakhstan. The collapse in the oil price and the not coincidental crackdowns on illegal migrant workers have slashed remittance revenue from $5.2 billion to under $2 billion. Exports of natural gas, mostly to China, were Uzbekistan’s second biggest revenue source and the price has fallen drastically. So once again the state is turning the screws on forced labour for the cotton industry.
Decades of relentless propaganda had bought Karimov an artificial but real popularity. His successor has to start a personality cult from scratch against sharp economic decline. I am very hopeful the system will collapse within two years.