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Swiss investigating Uzbek president's daughter over money laundering

Source: Reuters - Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:12 GMT
Author: Reuters
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In this 2012 file photo, Gulnara Karimova (C), daughter of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov attends an Independence Day celebration in Tashkent REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
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ZURICH, March 12 (Reuters) - Switzerland's public prosecutor said on Wednesday it was investigating Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's president, on suspicion of money laundering.

The prosecutor said it had widened an investigation originally centred on four people with business and personal ties to Karimova to include the daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov herself.

The Swiss authorities said that they began investigating possible money laundering in connection with funds held in Switzerland linked to what they called alleged irregularities in Uzbekistan's telecommunications market. The prosecutor said it had since blocked more than 800 million Swiss francs ($910.75 million).

There was no immediate reaction from Karimova, who returned to Tashkent last year after serving as Uzbek ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva from December 2008. Her current whereabouts were unknown. She has in the past denied allegations of business impropriety against her.

Karimova owns an estate on the shores of Lake Geneva. The 41-year-old is also a jewellery designer and pop star whose stage name is "Googosha".

Russian mobile phone operator Vimpelcom VIP.O said on Wednesday it was being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Dutch authorities, probably in connection with its operations in Uzbekistan.

TELECOMS PROBLEMATIC

Former Soviet Uzbekistan has been a problematic country for foreign mobile companies to invest in. Rival Russian mobile operator MTS had all its assets confiscated in the country while Sweden's TeliaSonera TLSN.ST has had its operations investigated by Swedish prosecutors.

President Karimov has ruled his mainly Muslim Central Asian nation of 30 million for more than two decades, and tolerates little dissent in his circle or the population at large.

Torture is rife in prisons and police stations in Uzbekistan, where activists are rounded up and routinely mistreated in a crackdown on dissent, the U.N. torture watchdog said in November.

The Uzbek delegation attending the U.N. examination of its record said that allegations of torture were "unfounded" and said that the watchdog had been corrupted by information from certain "politically biased" activist groups.

($1 = 0.8784 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Caroline Copley and Katharina Bart in Zurich and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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