Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov (file photo)
TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan and Switzerland have agreed on the return by Swiss authorities of $131 million in assets seized during criminal proceedings against Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
The Uzbek Justice Ministry said on August 16 that Minister Ruslanbek Davletov and Swiss President Ignazio Cassis signed an agreement in Bern to place the confiscated assets for a UN fund for sustainable development in Central Asia's most populous nation of 35 million.
The breakthrough is one of a handful of efforts by Tashkent to agree on the return of some $1 billion in illicit funds, in some cases slowed by foreign authorities' desire to ensure transparency in the funds' return to public coffers.
"The fund will allow the returned assets to be used for the benefit of the population of Uzbekistan," Cassis said at the signing ceremony.
Switzerland froze around 800 million Swiss francs ($842 million) in 2012 in connection with criminal proceedings against Karimova, a pop diva and businesswoman who had a public falling-out with her late father and is currently in an Uzbek prison on embezzlement and criminal conspiracy charges.
The Uzbek Justice Ministry said in February that it was working with authorities in Switzerland, the United States, France, Russia, and several other nations on the return of Karimova's assets that it said were "earned through criminal activities."
The ministry said at the time that Uzbek and Swiss authorities had agreed to create a multiparty trust fund with the United Nations to work on the return of assets that were confiscated under a court decision as part of the probe against Karimova.
It said that assets worth about $131 million and confiscated in 2019 were ready to be transferred to Uzbekistan.
In 2020, the Swiss government said a nonbinding framework agreement signed between Switzerland and Uzbekistan meant any returned assets "shall be used for the benefit of the people of Uzbekistan."
Tashkent has sought over $1 billion from foreign jurisdictions since announcing Karimova's imprisonment in 2017.
Once seen as a possible successor to her father, Karimova was placed under house arrest in Tashkent in 2014 while he was still alive and running the country. Karimov died in 2016 and Shavkat Mirziyoev succeeded him soon afterward.
Criminal investigators in Switzerland, the United States, Sweden, and the Netherlands have linked Karimova to a massive, years-long bribery scheme that revolved mainly around foreign telecommunications companies gaining access to the Uzbek market.
In December 2017, Karimova was sentenced to a 10-year prison term but the sentence was later commuted to house arrest for five years. She was detained in March 2019 for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest.
In February 2020, Karimova sent a letter to Mirziyoev offering to return $686 million to the country's treasury in exchange for the dismissal of the court case against her at home.
But a month later she received an additional 13-year sentence after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering, and other crimes.