The boyfriend of a corrupt Uzbek pop singer, socialite and former UN ambassador bought luxury properties in London worth more than £17 million using shell companies, The Telegraph can disclose, raising fears about money laundering.
Rustam Madumarov, who was in a long-standing relationship with Gulnara Karimova — the daughter of the former Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov — purchased four homes in Mayfair and Belgravia using a network of offshore accounts.
The properties — one of which was later sold for a £1 million profit — were acquired by two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Questions have been raised about the possible source of the funds used to purchase the properties, which are thought to be owned for the benefit of the woman US diplomats once dubbed the “single most hated person in Uzbekistan”.
In a memo dated 13 September, 2005, US Ambassador Jon R Purnell accused Karimova of using her government connections to “usurp” and “crush” business competitors to satisfy her greed, and concluded: “The general public view her as something of a robber baron”.
Both Madumarov, who was sentenced to six years behind bars in 2014, and his girlfriend have been described as members of an “organised crime network” by prosecutors in their home country.
Authorities in several countries are investigating assets linked to Karimova, who is the focus of an $800 million (£600 million) bribery investigation into payments made by three European telecommunications companies in exchange for access to local markets between 2004 and 2013.
Prosecutors in the United States ordered Swiss bank accounts linked to two companies thought to be controlled by Karimova and holding £200 million to be frozen in 2016.
It followed action by the United States District Attorney the previous year to seize cash and property held in Belgium through a number of shell companies.
She mixed with celebrities such as a Elton John, actress Sharon Stone and model Claudia Schiffer, attended exclusive events across Europe, and sought to cultivate her image as a major philanthropist.
She was briefly touted as a possible successor to her notoriously brutal father, whose use of torture to stymie opposition was described as “systematic” in a UN report, despite fierce disapproval in her homeland.
Following an apparent fall-out in 2013, Karimova was stripped of her diplomatic positions, charged with offences relating to corruption, tax evasion and money-laundering, and placed under house arrest with her daughter in the capital, Tashkent.
Speculation Karimova had been poisoned only came to an end in August this year, after it emerged she had been questioned by Swiss prosecutors while serving a five-year sentence.
However the independence of the Uzbek investigation can be questioned because of fears over political interference.
The Telegraph can for the first time reveal the location of London properties owned by companies believed to be controlled by Karimova’s closest confidante.
Handwritten notes leaked to reporters in Sweden in 2012, and which the Sunday Telegraph has seen, were compared by experts with known examples of Karimova’s handwriting.
One — a specialist in Cyrillic script — concluding with 75pc certainty that she was the author of a key document that appears to show the location and ownership of properties around the world.
The same paper indicates that someone with the initials “RM” is the founder and account manager for four companies of which Karimova is the beneficial owner.
“RM” is believed to be Rustam Madumarov, while two of the firms – Oregon and Porchester – have owned three properties in the capital.
In December 2010, Oregon, which is registered in the BVI, purchased the lease on a top-floor flat in London for £12.338 million.
The same day, the company took over the lease for a basement apartment in the building near Harrods for £1.112 million.
In February 2012, Porchester, which is also registered in the BVI, bought a flat in Mayfair, close to Hyde Park, for £3.68 million.
The top floor flat was sold through high-end estate agents for £13.25 million April 2013, netting a profit of £912,000 for Oregon.
Rubis, the third company referred to in the note as being controlled by Madumarov, is recorded as owning a chateau near Paris.
Madumarov’s name and signature appear on official documents regarding the purchase of this building, the Chateau de Groussay.
A fourth company — also controlled by “RM” — is given as the owner of an apartment in Hong Kong via the Expoline shell company.
Madumarov is given as the sole owner of a company called Expoline which owns a property seized by Hong Kong authorities in connection with investigations into Karimova, making it highly probable he is the “RM” referred to as controlling Oregon and Porchester.
Two of the London properties are still owned by Oregon and Porchester, Land Registry records show.
At the time when both the purchases and sale were made, third parties involved in the deals were required to carry out additional due diligence on so-called ‘politically exposed persons’, including relatives of heads of state, taken on as clients.
Additional guidance was published in June 2017, but the government has to make good on its promise to create comprehensive register of shell companies’ real owners.
Madumarov is named alongside Karimova in asset recovery papers filed in New York pertaining to three further shell firms and several hedge funds.
He appears as a director of with numerous shell companies identified in the so-called Panama Papers leak originating with law firm Mossack Fonseca, some of which have connections to companies registered in the UK.
Eleanor Nichol, Deputy Director of Corruption Campaigns at Global Witness, said: “The government committed to crack down on dirty money in the property market over two years ago, but has so far failed to introduce any legislation, despite widespread support.
“It must hold firm and not let the politics of Brexit get in the way.”
The disclosure comes as peers separately call on ministers to honour a pledge to publish a public register listing individuals who own UK properties through companies registered overseas — a move the Government had said would “assist investigators [to] track down and recover proceeds of crime”.
Lord Faulks, a QC, has put down an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which would introduce a register of beneficial ownership of UK properties.
Currently, individuals who ultimately own property in Britain can remain anonymous by purchasing the homes through an offshore company and simply listing that entity in official land registry records. The amendment, which has attracted cross-party support, is expected to be debated on Wednesday.
It is vital that we ourselves retain our reputation and allowing billions of pounds of property to be owned by murky foreign companies is a blot on that reputation,” Lord Faulks said, without reference to any specific cases.
“It seems absolutely within the scope of the Bill, consistent with Government policy and frankly a matter of urgency. If not now, when?”
Written by Luke Heighton, Edward Malnick