9th December 2020
Uzbek Asset Return Network: Special Issue series
Coinciding with UN Anti-Corruption day, the Uzbek Asset Return Network (UARN) has launched a multi-part special issue briefing paper series analysing the challenges, concerns and opportunities in the international return of Gulnara Karimova’s corrupt assets to Uzbekistan. The case of Gulnara Karimova, the former Uzbek President’s daughter, accused her of receiving bribe payments from three telecommunications companies (MTS, Telia and VimpelCom) totalling over $1 Billion USD. Criminal cases against Karimova are ongoing in various countries including Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States.
This special issue series is divided into 6 briefing reports + an introductory report. It begins by analysing the risks and opportunities in the asset return process to Uzbekistan looking in particular at the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Switzerland and Uzbekistan to return the first tranche Karimova’s corrupt assets to Uzbekistan. The series also highlights the responsibilities of asset returning states in ensuring that confiscated assets are returned and reused to benefit the first victims of corruption – the citizens of the country they were stolen from. To achieve this, confiscating countries must put in place and robustly enforce, appropriate asset recovery legal frameworks that fulfil this collective mandate with integrity. In order to ensure the responsible return of assets and its monitoring, the rights and protections for independent civil society and media must be guaranteed. As Umida Niyazova, Executive Director for Uzbek Forum for Human Rights notes “given the most recent worrying attempts to silence critical reporting by the Uzbek authorities, the media cannot be relied upon to monitor the asset return process sufficiently. Independent civil society in Uzbekistan also remains severely constrained and lacks the resources or capacity to scrutinise how funds will be managed and disbursed. Without adequate monitoring by independent media and civil society, Gulnara Karimova’s returned assets are at risk of repeated misappropriation”. Nadejda Atayeva of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia adds, ‘reality proves the Uzbek authorities frequently use threats against independent journalists and activists to suppress dissent. Taking into consideration the risks for independent activists and critics, including the risk of imprisonment on fabricated charges and the use of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, their ability to effectively and independently monitor the asset return process to ensure accountability and transparency is virtually non- existent’.
Despite a change in government in Uzbekistan and moves towards greater liberalisation and openness, Uzbekistan still ranks 153rd out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Uzbek and International civil society have therefore been advocating for implementing a responsible asset return framework. As Sara Brimbeuf, Asset Recovery Lead at Transparency International France notes, ‘the MoU, if respected and effectively implemented, could potentially set an international benchmark for responsible asset return and should inspire other countries including France to adopt a similar approach, enshrining the principles of integrity, transparency and accountability into their legislation’. Laure Brillaud, Senior Policy Officer at Transparency International EU adds ‘the bilateral approach in cases involving multiple jurisdictions is not the most effective way to operate. The Gulnara Karimova case is a textbook case where many EU countries are involved and where it would make a lot of sense to have a system guiding asset recovery that is coordinated and harmonised at EU level.’
Whilst the recent Swiss-Uzbek Memorandum of Understanding made a range of commitments including the involvement of civil society as well as the incorporation of transparency and accountability mechanisms – all of which have welcomed by civil society – it remains to be seen how this will be operationalised. Professor Kristian Lasslett describes the MoU as ‘a historic document’, though cautions ‘our research into the Mirziyoyev government’s management of domestic assets seized from the Karimova syndicate, however, reveals in practice the Government of Uzbekistan has systematically failed to meet these international benchmarks. Responsible return will accordingly require extremely rigorous measures, potentially a third-party mechanism situated in a transparent, well-regulated jurisdiction’.
As Fatima Kanji, UARN coordinator warns, ‘the devil is in the detail. The modality framework needs to move beyond being merely a technical exercise, to one which fully embodies the principles of transparency, accountability, integrity and human rights. Whether there is genuine intent and commitment of the negotiating parties to the pledges made in the Swiss-Uzbek MoU, will be reflected in the forthcoming modality framework and agreed implementation processes which will outline just how the return of Gulnara Karimova’s corrupt assets to Uzbekistan will take place’.
List of published papers (English and Russian)
- Fatima Kanji (Uzbek Asset Return Network and International State Crime Initiative), Summary: Challenges and opportunities for responsible asset return to Uzbekistan
- Richard Messick, Stolen assets be return to corrupt governments? The Uzbek case
- Professor Kristian Lasslett, Dilmira Matyakubova and Umida Niyazova (UzInvestigatons), Evaluating the Swiss-Uzbek Return Principles for Stolen Assets Warehoused Abroad
- Professor Kristian Lasslett and Dr Dawid Stanczak (UzInvestigations and Ulster University), Can the Government of Uzbekistan Responsibly Manage Seized Assets? A Capacity Assessment
- Laure Brillaud, Sara Brimbeuf and Matilde Manzi (Transparency International EU and Transparency International France), Stop the Kleptocrats: The EU must no longer be a safe haven for stolen assets
- Umida Niyazova and Lynn Schweisfurth (Uzbek Forum for Human Rights), Can Uzbekistan’s Media be Relied Upon to Scrutinize the Safe Return of Gulnara Karimova’s Assets?
- Nadejda Atayeva (Association for Human Rights in Central Asia), A spotlight on Independent civil society in Uzbekistan
Список опубликованных докладов
- Фатима Канжи (Uzbek Asset Return Network and International State Crime Initiative), Резюме: «Проблемы и возможности ответственного возвращения активов в Узбекистан»
- Ричард Мессик, «Должны ли украденные активы быть возвращены коррумпированным правительствам? Узбекское дело»
- Кристиан Ласлетт, Дильмира Матякубова и Умида Ниязова (UzInvestigations), «Оценка швейцарско-узбекских принципов возврата похищенных активов, хранящихся за рубежом»
- Кристиан Ласлетт и Д‑р Давид Станчак (UzInvestigations и Ольстерский Университет), «Способно ли правительство Узбекистана ответственно распоряжаться изъятыми активами? Оценка возможностей»
- Лора Бриллауд, Сара Бримбеф и Матильда Манзи, (Transparency International EU and Transparency International France), «Остановить клептократов: ЕС больше не должен быть безопасной гаванью для украденных активов»
- Умида Ниязова и Линн Швайсфурт, (Uzbek Forum for Human Rights), «Можно ли положиться на средства массовой информации Узбекистана, в вопросах надзора за безопасным возвращением активов Гульнары Каримовой?»
- Надежда Атаева ( Ассоциация Права Человека в Центральной Азии), «Обзор положения независимого гражданского общества»
Who are we?
The Uzbek Asset Return Network (UARN) is a coalition of Uzbek and international NGO’s and experts advocating for the responsible return of Gulnara Karimova’s corrupt assets to Uzbekistan, ensuring assets are dedicated to the developmental needs and interests of the Uzbek people – the victims of corruption – under a framework underpinned by the principles of transparency, accountability, integrity and human rights.
For press enquiries, please contact Fatima Kanji (UARN Coordinator) at: firstname.lastname@example.org