As I am currently hiding away in Switzerland, I thought a Swiss-themed blog was in order. This part of Switzerland – picture Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) like an upside-down banana, and I’m just off the far eastern tip of it, up a mountain overlooking the lake – has long been very popular with those who have the money to indulge their taste for the fine things in life. Charlie Chaplin settled here in 1953, after being accused in America of being a communist, and lived in a wonderful home near Vevey until his death in 1977. Audrey Hepburn went a little further west, buying a gorgeous farmhouse called La Paisible just outside Tolochenaz. And when the Uzbek president’s daughter Gulnara Karimova was appointed her country’s ambassador to the UN in 2008, she moved to Geneva. She wasn’t exactly scratching a living; in December 2009, Swiss magazine “Bilan” reported that she had assets in Switzerland of between US$570 million and $655 million.
The source of those assets came under scrutiny in July 2012, when the Swiss authorities launched a money laundering investigation into four Uzbek nationals with close ties to Karimova, stating that the suspected underlying illegal activities were linked to the Uzbek telecommunications market. Karimova was removed from her position as UN ambassador, and the resulting cessation of her diplomatic immunity paved the way for an investigation into her. In September 2013, Switzerland named her as an official suspect, and she swiftly left town. Three months later, a group of exiled Uzbek dissidents broke into Karimova’s deserted lakeside villa (which she had purchased in 2009 for CHF 18 million – about £12 million) and published images of items allegedly taken from the Uzbek national museum, including works of art, gold and silver trinkets, jewellery, and an 18th century jewel-encrusted Koran. In March 2014, Swiss prosecutors announced formally that they are investigating Karimova, and that they had already seized €660 million of suspect Uzbek assets.
Karimova had been seen as a possible successor to her authoritarian father Islam Karimov, and indeed for many years she managed to combine politics with a career as a pop star, fashion designer and the head of charitable funds. But now her Uzbek media empire, including several television channels, has been shut down and more than a dozen boutiques belonging to her or her business partners have been closed on allegations of tax evasion and other charges. Her Wikipedia entry says bleakly: “Current status: It has been reported that Karimova is currently imprisoned.” I should think a Tashkent prison is a far cry from the shores of Lac Léman.