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9th Decem­ber 2020

Press State­ment

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.

Report sum­mary

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)

  1. Fatima Kanji (Uzbek Asset Return Net­work and Inter­na­tion­al State Crime Ini­ti­at­ive), Sum­mary: Chal­lenges and oppor­tun­it­ies for respons­ible asset return to Uzbekistan
  2. Richard Mes­sick, Stolen assets be return to cor­rupt gov­ern­ments? The Uzbek case
  3. Pro­fess­or Kris­ti­an Lass­lett, Dilmira Matyak­ubova and Umida Niyazova (UzIn­vestigatons), Eval­u­at­ing the Swiss-Uzbek Return Prin­ciples for Stolen Assets Ware­housed Abroad
  4. Pro­fess­or Kris­ti­an Lass­lett and Dr Daw­id Stanczak (UzIn­vest­ig­a­tions and Ulster Uni­ver­sity), Can the Gov­ern­ment of Uzbek­istan Respons­ibly Man­age Seized Assets? A Capa­city Assessment
  5. 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
  6. 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?
  7. Nade­jda Atayeva (Asso­ci­ation for Human Rights in Cent­ral Asia), A spot­light on Inde­pend­ent civil soci­ety in Uzbekistan

Список опубликованных докладов

  1. Фатима Канжи (Uzbek Asset Return Net­work and Inter­na­tion­al State Crime Ini­ti­at­ive), Резюме: «Проблемы и возможности ответственного возвращения активов в Узбекистан»
  2. Ричард Мессик, «Должны ли украденные активы быть возвращены коррумпированным правительствам? Узбекское дело»
  3. Кристиан Ласлетт, Дильмира Матякубова и Умида Ниязова (UzIn­vest­ig­a­tions), «Оценка швейцарско-узбекских принципов возврата похищенных активов, хранящихся за рубежом»
  4. Кристиан Ласлетт и Д‑р Давид Станчак (UzIn­vest­ig­a­tions и Ольстерский Университет), «Способно ли правительство Узбекистана ответственно распоряжаться изъятыми активами? Оценка возможностей»
  5. 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»
  6. 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?»
  7. 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: f.kanji@qmul.ac.uk