Offshore scheme behind the riches of Uzbek dictator's daughter

What is the source of the multi-million wealth of Lola Karimova, daughter of deceased Uzbekistan leader Islam Karimov, and where does it end up?

Daughter of deceased Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, Lola Karimova, and her hus­band Timur Tillyaev are top socialites in Paris and Los Angeles

The Uzbek cou­ple own a per­fume bou­tique in Melrose Place and a 50 mil­lion USD vil­la in Beverly Hills

This year, they pro­duced an award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary at the Venice Film Festival, and Lola was pro­filed for high soci­ety bible Vanity Fair

Their wealth comes from a mar­ket for import­ed goods in Uzbek cap­i­tal Tashkent which is sus­pect­ed of ben­e­fit­ing from tax priv­i­leges, a charge which they deny

In 2013 and 2014 alone, 127 mil­lion dol­lars of cash in their com­pa­ny trans­ac­tions was chan­nelled through off­shore bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland, through a com­plex finan­cial scheme, our inves­ti­ga­tion reveals

Former col­lab­o­ra­tors of a lead­ing Uzbek ‘mafia boss’ held and still hold key posi­tions at the couple’s business

This year’s Cannes Film Festival was a tri­umph for Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva. To pro­mote her per­fume brand ‘The Harmonist’, the youngest daugh­ter of the for­mer Uzbek pres­i­dent Islam Karimov held one of the Riviera’s grand­est social events.

On 22 May, she rent­ed Club Albane on the rooftop of the JW Marriott Hotel, the fes­ti­val’s most exclu­sive venue, for the first edi­tion of ‘The Harmonist Excellence Award’, where she per­son­al­ly hand­ed the top prize to Oscar-win­ning French actor Juliette Binoche.

The 102 illus­tri­ous guests also includ­ed actors Catherine Deneuve and Kristin Scott Thomas — as well as 90s pin-up Pamela Anderson.

Together they enjoyed Champagne cock­tails in the balmy atmos­phere, a gas­tro­nom­ic din­ner called ‘scents of har­mo­ny’ and a pri­vate con­cert by ‘Kiss from a Rose’ singer Seal.

Lola Karimova, 39, is a big spender at Cannes. Last year, she rent­ed the entire beach of the Martinez Palace for per­for­mances by American pop sen­sa­tion Jason Derulo and DJ Martin Solveig.

Before this event, Lola blast­ed a TV advert for her per­fume on a giant screen in front of a crowd that includ­ed stars Orlando Bloom, Kate Hudson and Mélanie Laurent, top mod­els Karolina Kurkova and Heidi Klum and Ivana Trump, the ex-wife of the US president.

Dizzy on Champagne and tak­ing in the lux­u­ry air, these celebri­ties had no qualms about pro­mot­ing the image of the daugh­ter of the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.

The leader bru­tal­ly ran the coun­try as a klep­toc­ra­cy for his inner cir­cle for over two decades until his death in September 2016, sup­press­ing dis­sent with vio­lence and tor­ture, and muz­zling the press.

Sampling scents at Cannes: Lola Karimova and cin­e­ma icon Catherine Deneuve (Instagram/Lola Karimova-Tiillyaeva)

According to our infor­ma­tion, sev­er­al guests were paid to attend the par­ties in Cannes, includ­ing Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve. But the PR offi­cer for these actress­es said they did not know Lola Karimova, and were not aware that she owned ‘The Harmonist’ brand. Representatives of Orlando Bloom, Pamela Anderson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Mélanie Laurent did not reply.

But they did not seem too con­cerned about the ori­gin of the immense for­tune behind the per­fume, which amounts to sev­er­al hun­dred mil­lions of dol­lars, and hails from a 32-mil­lion strong state of farms and mines, where chil­dren are enlist­ed into forced labour in cot­ton fields.

The busi­ness of Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, man­aged by her hus­band Timur Tillyaev, is less glam­orous than an evening of test­ing a 285-dol­lar elixir, while knock­ing back the fizz to a live sound­track from the lat­est R&B hitmaker.

Confidential doc­u­ments, obtained by Mediapart and shared with the media net­work European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) show that the cou­ple accu­mu­lat­ed, in 2013 and 2014 alone, 127 mil­lion dol­lars hid­den in off­shore bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland, through a com­plex finan­cial scheme.

Dubai Trading Hub: Heart of Scheme

At the cen­tre of the sys­tem is trad­ing com­pa­ny Securtrade, reg­is­tered in Dubai. It sells import­ed con­sumer goods, such as cloth­ing and tele­vi­sions, to oth­er trad­ing com­pa­nies which sup­ply Tashkent’s main whole­sale mar­ket, Abu Sahiy. This mar­ket is owned by Timur Tillyaev, and is sus­pect­ed of ben­e­fit­ing from tax priv­i­leges, a charge which the busi­ness­man denies.

Another issue is that Securtrade under­takes most of its busi­ness with dozens of shell com­pa­nies reg­is­tered in tax havens. The EIC also not­ed anom­alies in invoic­es and trans­port doc­u­ments, which sug­gests that some trans­ac­tions could be fake.

Above this mys­te­ri­ous busi­ness hangs the shad­ow of Uzbek mafia boss Salim Abduvaliyev: two of his for­mer col­lab­o­ra­tors have held key posi­tions at the head of Timur and Lola’s com­pa­nies in the United Arab Emirates.

The mul­ti-mil­lion­aire Uzbek cou­ple would not speak to EIC. Instead their American lawyer, Mark F. Raymond, states, in a writ­ten answer, that our infor­ma­tion is “ground­less”. “Mr. Tillyaev’s busi­ness­es are legit­i­mate and have not engaged in illic­it activ­i­ty.” He adds that he is “con­fi­dent” that our doc­u­ments “are either stolen or fab­ri­ca­tions”, and that they have been pro­vid­ed by a “dis­grun­tled, biased, and reck­less for­mer con­sul­tant” in con­flict with Timur Tillyaev, who “has been discredited”.

Raymond adds: “Know that the pub­li­ca­tion of any defam­a­to­ry arti­cle will result in our clients pur­su­ing all law­ful reme­dies against you and all those who aid you in such wrong­ful conduct.”

Trying to improve Uzbek rep­u­ta­tion abroad: Lola and hus­band Timur Tillyaev (Instagram/Lola Karimova-Tiillyaeva)

U.S. Cables: Lola the Ex-Nightclubber

Gaining detailed and accu­rate infor­ma­tion about Uzbek pol­i­tics and its elite is almost impos­si­ble. The press is under con­stant attack, and even dis­si­dents liv­ing in for­eign coun­tries are afraid to speak, because their fam­i­lies in Uzbekistan can face threats and intimidation.

But there is infor­ma­tion about Lola Karimova’s past from American diplo­mat­ic cables from 2004, pub­lished on Wikileaks. The president’s younger daugh­ter, then 26, is described as a night­club­ber, dri­ving every night at the wheel of her Porsche Cayenne, to the most chic venue in Tashkent. The cable says that she drank alco­hol and “danced freely” until the end of the night with her “thug­gish-look­ing” boyfriend and future hus­band Timur Tillyaev, an own­er of bars and restau­rants in the cap­i­tal of the Muslim-major­i­ty country.

In 2006, Lola Karimova left Uzbekistan and set­tled briefly in Riga, Latvia. With her hus­band, she moved to Paris and to Switzerland, where they bought a 30 mil­lion Euro prop­er­ty in 2010 in the posh­est sub­urb of Geneva. Three years lat­er, Timur and Lola pur­chased a mega-vil­la worth around 50 mil­lion dol­lars in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

In a recent inter­view for a puff piece in Vanity Fair pro­mot­ing her per­fume brand, Lola says that she shares her time between her main LA res­i­dence and Paris, where she works for her per­fume com­pa­ny and as an ambas­sador of Uzbekistan to Unesco, a post she held from 2008 and is like­ly to relin­quish soon. She also runs sev­er­al char­i­ties, like the ‘You Are Not Alone Foundation’, which sup­ports Uzbek orphans.

A pil­lar of Parisian social life, Karimova works to improve the image of the Uzbek regime, which is most notable in the inter­na­tion­al press for the ‘Andijan Massacre’ of 2005 — where its secu­ri­ty ser­vices fired on a peace­ful protest, killing hun­dreds of demon­stra­tors, before bury­ing them in mass graves. The author­i­ties also had a pen­chant for boil­ing alive their prisoners.

Accessing Parisian high soci­ety does not come cheap. French mag­a­zine Bakchich [now defunct] revealed actor Monica Bellucci was paid 190,000 Euro in 2009 to attend Karimova’s so-called ‘Humanitarian’ din­ner, fea­tur­ing French movie vet­er­an Alain Delon and Bernadette Chirac, the wife of for­mer French pres­i­dent Jacques Chirac.

Lola also act­ed as a guardian of her father, suing, with­out suc­cess, an arti­cle by news web­site Rue89, which described her as a “dictator’s daugh­ter”. In November 2016, two months after her father’s death, she found­ed the Islam Karimov Foundation, the pur­pose of which, along­side char­i­ty work, is to “per­pet­u­ate the mem­o­ry and prin­ci­ples” of the for­mer president.

To fur­ther show her patri­o­tism to the Uzbek cause, she also pro­duced a doc­u­men­tary about an Uzbek astronomer ‘Ulugh Beg: Through Hardships to the Stars’, with American actor Armand Assante in the lead role, and for­mer Mr Bellucci — Vincent Cassel — as nar­ra­tor. This movie won the ‘Kineo’ Prize for Best Foreign Documentary at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Victory in the ‘Kineo’ Prize at Venice Film Festival: actor Armand Assante (left), next to pro­duc­ers Lola and Timur (Source: Facebook/Lola-Karimova-Tillyaeva)

Lola Karimova dis­tances her­self from her sis­ter Gulnara, a for­mer pop singer and busi­ness­woman who has been pros­e­cut­ed since 2012 in five coun­tries for receiv­ing 340 mil­lion USD in bribes from for­eign firms to obtain mobile phone licences in Uzbekistan.

In 2014, Gulnara was placed under house arrest in Uzbekistan by her own father and, since last sum­mer, has been in jail, with an Uzbek pros­e­cu­tor accus­ing her of hijack­ing a total of 1.5 bil­lion USD. In 2013, short­ly after Gulnara’s first legal trou­bles, Lola Karimova told the BBC that she had “no fam­i­ly or friend­ly rela­tions” with her sis­ter, and they had “not spo­ken to each oth­er for 12 years.”

Lola Karimova is dis­creet about the ori­gin of her wealth. In the same BBC inter­view, she mere­ly declared that her hus­band “is a share­hold­er in a trans­port and trad­ing company”.

According to our doc­u­ments, the wealth of the cou­ple comes from Abu Sahiy, a huge 25-hectare whole­sale mar­ket of con­sumer goods in the sub­urbs of Tashkent. Founded in March 2006 by Timur Tillyaev, after his romance with Lola began, Abu Sahiy has become the largest trad­ing cen­tre of imports in Uzbekistan.

The deceased pres­i­den­t’s son-in-law also owns the Silk Road group of com­pa­nies, an air car­go busi­ness com­pa­ny close­ly linked to Abu Sahiy, and head­quar­tered a few hun­dred metres from the market.

Dominant in the sale of imports: Abu Sahiy Market in Tashkent

According to reports by media often crit­i­cal of the regime, includ­ing Ferghana and Centr‑1, Abu Sahiy‘s suc­cess is based on an unof­fi­cial tax and cus­toms priv­i­lege, and pos­si­bly pay­ing no cus­toms duties.

Duties and tax­es on import­ed goods in Uzbekistan are puni­tive­ly high for con­sumers and mer­chants, but there is a cheap­er route. Abu Sahiy con­sists of a trans­port ‘sys­tem’ which brings in prod­ucts by plane and lor­ry from abroad, often from China and through Kyrgyzstan. Merchants buy into the sys­tem to allow them to import goods into Uzbekistan, with­out pay­ing the cus­toms’ duties them­selves, it is understood.

In an inter­view with Turkish news­pa­per Hürriyet, Gulnara Karimova, said that Abu Sahiy is “with­out any tax oblig­a­tions to the state bud­get” and has “a month­ly turnover of around 20 mil­lion dol­lars”, or 240 mil­lion dol­lars a year for Timur Tillyaev.

But the firm’s bypass­ing of the legal route is denied by Tllyaev’s American representative.

Mark F. Raymond points out that “Abu Sahiy’s pre­miere posi­tion” and its “low­er” prices is only “the result of a well-orga­nized busi­ness with a high stan­dard of tech­ni­cal and logis­tics skills… The con­duct of busi­ness is in com­pli­ance with all laws, includ­ing the pay­ment of all tax­es and duties. [Abu Sahiy] has nev­er enjoyed any spe­cial cus­toms priv­i­leges or undue tax exemptions.”

Dubai Firm: Massive profit of 85 per cent on clothing and TV sales

Lola and her hus­band use a com­plex off­shore trad­ing sys­tem, which results in mon­ey trans­fer­ring from Uzbekistan into their com­pa­nies in tax havens.

In ear­ly 2013, Timur Tillyaev cre­at­ed the import-export com­pa­ny Securtrade in Dubai, of which he is the sole share­hold­er. He entrust­ed the man­age­ment to fel­low Uzbek col­lab­o­ra­tor Alimbekov Dovronbek, an engi­neer and cham­pi­on of Uzbek mar­tial arts.

Here we detail a chain of busi­ness­es in mul­ti­ple juris­dic­tions: Securtrade buys prod­ucts in China or Turkey, then sells them to oth­er trad­ing com­pa­nies, which sell them to Scottish shell com­pa­nies, which fur­ther sell them on to the mer­chants of Abu Sahiy market.

Documents obtained by EIC sug­gest that this scheme is shady. First, there are the stu­pen­dous prof­its of Securtrade.

Its bank records for 2013 and 2014 show that the com­pa­ny achieved, over this peri­od, a min­i­mum of 127 mil­lion USD in prof­it on a turnover of 151 mil­lion USD.

That makes a hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry net gain of 85 per cent, which seems out of reach for a com­pa­ny that sells low mar­gin prod­ucts such as TV sets and clothes.

Some of this mon­ey has financed the cou­ple’s activ­i­ties and per­son­al expens­es. 12 mil­lion USD was wired to Silk Road International, a com­pa­ny in Brunei which owns the couple’s Airbus A300 car­go plane. Securtrade also paid 1.2 mil­lion USD to Vertfort LCC, the American com­pa­ny that owns the cou­ple’s vil­la in Beverly Hills, and 675,000 USD to Harmonist Inc., the U.S. com­pa­ny oper­at­ing Lola’s Harmonist bou­tique in Los Angeles.

The remain­ing cash, 113 mil­lion USD, has remained in the company’s accounts at Mashreq Bank in Dubai, and at NBAD Bank in Abu Dhabi, while 20 mil­lion USD has been trans­ferred to an account at the Swiss bank Vontobel, through a Swiss assets man­age­ment com­pa­ny called CPCI.

Because this is com­pli­cat­ed, here is a dia­gram that sets this out:

The ques­tion remains: how can Securtrade achieve such huge profitability?

Well, it seems that this Dubai com­pa­ny of Timur Tillyaev sells prod­ucts, but rarely buys them.

In its 2013 and 2014 bank records, there are 151 mil­lion USD of sales, but only eight mil­lion iden­ti­fied as pay­ments to sup­pli­ers, almost twen­ty times fewer.

In its annu­al finan­cial state­ments, Securtrade states it has bought 92 mil­lion USD worth of prod­ucts dur­ing the same peri­od, but adds that it accu­mu­lat­ed a trad­ing debt of 79 mil­lion USD owed to its sup­pli­ers at the end of 2014.

This means that Securtrade only paid out 13 mil­lion USD from 92 mil­lion. Financial experts say that a sell­er in such a trans­ac­tion would not put up with owing such a high debt to a client, as these pay­ments are usu­al­ly cleared in a max­i­mum of three months.

So this rais­es a doubt about the real­i­ty of these busi­ness deals — an issue which Timur and Lola’s lawyer refused to explain pub­licly. He only stat­ed that Securtrade’s finan­cial state­ments are “appro­pri­ate and above-board.”

Securtrade’s cus­tomers are equal­ly trou­bling. The com­pa­ny makes almost all of its sales with shell cor­po­ra­tions that have no offices or employees.

At the top of the chain, Securtrade’s final cus­tomers are, accord­ing to Tillyaev’s lawyer, traders who sell goods to “ven­dors at Abu Sahiy and oth­er markets”.

But all these mer­chants keen to work in Central Asia have — bizarrely — cho­sen to set up their busi­ness­es in Scotland, more than 5,000 kilo­me­tres from Tashkent.

Uzbek Trading Hotspot: A Village in South Lanarkshire

The three trad­ing cus­tomers of Securtrade are named Elcorp, Five Star Technology Support, and Greenhall Management.

These are ‘Scottish Limited Partnerships’, a con­tro­ver­sial sta­tus that allows them to keep the secre­cy of the own­ers with the same lack of trans­paren­cy as the most noto­ri­ous tax havens, but with the respectable facade of a British company.

Securtrade’s final cus­tomers are based in a room in a cen­tral Edinburgh block, and a town­house in the vil­lage of Douglas, in the coun­ty of South Lanarkshire. This vil­lage became famous when one of the 2,662 com­pa­nies reg­is­tered at a Main Street address was in a crim­i­nal probe due to arms sales con­cern­ing Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

Behind the Scottish com­pa­nies trad­ing with Lola Karimova’s hus­band is the same Dublin-based fidu­cia­ry firm Kearney Curran & Co [which refused to answer our ques­tions, or com­ment on the phone], and the same British men act­ing as nom­i­nee directors.

Two of these names admin­is­ter over 2,000 com­pa­nies, earn­ing them the sta­tus of being the most active straw men in Europe.

In short — this scheme is com­mon­ly used to con­ceal the real own­ers of these companies.

In Edinburgh, John Hein, who is reg­is­tered at the address of Elcorp Management, con­firmed that his com­pa­ny set up “a mail­box ser­vice” for this trad­ing firm, and that he for­ward­ed any let­ters to Dublin. Elcorp has no per­son­nel at the address.

In Douglas, a sim­i­lar for­ward­ing com­pa­ny called Office Wizard, also con­firmed ‘Five Star Technology Support’ has no pres­ence at its address. “We rent vir­tu­al space to com­pa­nies who are based out of the UK, but wish to oper­ate in the UK,” said Office Wizard’s Lily Clark. “They can oper­ate any­where in the world.”

Another coin­ci­dence: all these ‘Scottish LPs’ opened accounts in the Latvian bank Rietumu in Riga. This bank has a poor rep­u­ta­tion, and was recent­ly hit with a 80 mil­lion Euro fine from France for mon­ey laun­der­ing and tax eva­sion [Rietumu refused to answer ques­tions from EIC, or comment].

Chasing the Ghost Firm of Switzerland

These Scotland-based mer­chants buy the goods from oth­er trad­ing com­pa­nies based in Switzerland or the United Arab Emirates, who buy from Securtrade.

But in real­i­ty, these inter­me­di­ary com­pa­nies are emp­ty shells. Their only aim is to serve as a buffer between Securtrade and its Scottish ‘clients’.

One of these, Swiss com­pa­ny Titan Traders, went to great lengths to cre­ate a façade. Its head­quar­ters is in a build­ing in the cen­ter of Luzern. Upstairs, Titan has his own door and a glass sign with its name and a gener­ic logo. In real­i­ty, behind the door are the premis­es of a trust com­pa­ny, which has its own entrance only a few meters away.

When we vis­it­ed the loca­tion, and knocked on Titan’s door, an employ­ee of the trust com­pa­ny told us, with­out pos­si­bly under­stand­ing the irony of the statement:

There’s nobody work­ing for Titan here, it’s just their head office.”

Titan Traders, Luzern, Switzerland: Glass facade: no com­pa­ny at home

Titan has its bank account at ABLV bank in Riga. It is owned by Patrick Gruhn, a Swiss busi­ness­man with mul­ti­ple inter­ests, who presents him­self as a wealth man­ag­er. He admits that he knows Timur Tillyaev, but swears that it cre­at­ed a trad­ing busi­ness with Uzbekistan “on his own accord and not under instruc­tion of Mr. Tillyaev”.

In real­i­ty, Titan works only with Securtrade, and Gruhn’s main job was to sign con­tracts and invoic­es, in exchange for com­mis­sions amount­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of euros. Gruhn’s spokesman says that Titan “has now been dor­mant for near­ly two years”.

Patrick Gruhn has also lent, through Titan Traders, 350,000 Euro to the French com­pa­ny which man­ages the Paris bou­tique The Harmonist, the per­fume brand of Lola Karimova, locat­ed on the exclu­sive George V Avenue near the Champs-Elysées. Gruhn says that the loan has been ful­ly repaid.

Gruhn says that Titan’s role was to ensure that the Scottish ‘mer­chants’ would not bypass Securtrade, and buy “direct­ly from the ini­tial Chinese supplier”.

Timur Tillyaev’s lawyer asserts that the use of these inter­me­di­ary com­pa­nies “is com­mon­ly used by com­pa­nies all over the world, not for nefar­i­ous or improp­er rea­sons, but as a sound, pru­dent and legit­i­mate busi­ness prac­tice”. He adds that Securtrade “has been the sub­ject of inten­sive third par­ty reviews and audits”, but he did not show these analy­ses to EIC.

Invoices which Predict the Future

Our doc­u­ments, how­ev­er, reveal sev­er­al prob­lem­at­ic trans­ac­tions. In one exam­ple, in November 2013, Securtrade bought five batch­es of clothes from a Chinese exporter, Xinjiang Bortala. Then Securtrade sold the goods for nine mil­lion USD to Titan, which resold them to Scottish shell com­pa­ny Five Star.

But the doc­u­ments obtained by EIC sug­gest that there could be no real trad­ing of goods behind this mon­ey flow. In most cas­es Titan resells the clothes to Five Star, before it even buys them.

Invoices issued by the Chinese sup­pli­er to Securtrade do not have a com­pa­ny head­er or sig­na­ture. One of the Xinjiang Bortala invoic­es men­tions the resale of the prod­ucts by Securtrade to Titan, on a date which hap­pens two weeks after the date writ­ten on its invoice. In oth­er words, it reports a sale which hap­pens in the future.

The clothes have been shipped by trucks from China to the Abu Sahiy mar­ket in Tashkent. But there are prob­lems with the trans­port doc­u­ments. They have the stamp of the Uzbek cus­toms, but were not filled in cor­rect­ly: most of the manda­to­ry fields were left blank, includ­ing export license num­bers, truck depar­ture and arrival dates, and com­mod­i­ty prices.

In response, Timur Tillyaev’s lawyer asserts that Securtrade only car­ries out “legit­i­mate, legal trans­ac­tions of actu­al goods”.

To the extent that non-fal­si­fied, actu­al com­pa­ny doc­u­ments may reveal an error in any one of those trans­ac­tions, we acknowl­edge that no com­pa­ny is 100% per­fect, and we do not claim that SecurTrade is the excep­tion,” adds Mark F. Raymond.

The activ­i­ties of Timur Tillyaev in the United Arab Emirates raised sus­pi­cion among the author­i­ties. In May 2013, fol­low­ing a denun­ci­a­tion by the cen­tral bank, the Sharjah police launched an inves­ti­ga­tion into Silk Road FZE (one of the com­pa­nies in Tillyaev’s busi­ness galaxy) on sus­pi­cion of mon­ey laun­der­ing. The two Uzbek man­agers of the com­pa­ny were ques­tioned and their pass­ports con­fis­cat­ed. But they were even­tu­al­ly allowed to leave the country.

A coin­ci­dence — On 8 September 2013, the man­ag­er of Securtrade, Alimbekov Dovronbek, had the priv­i­lege to meet the Sheikh of Sharjah, Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, in his palace. According to our infor­ma­tion, the hench­man of Timur Tillyaev offered a Rolls Royce to the sheikh. Timur Tillyaev says that he is “unaware” of this episode and that his com­pa­nies “do not engage in any bribery or cor­rupt activities”.

Tillyaev’s com­pa­ny rep Alimbekov Dovronbek meets with the Sheikh of Sharjah. Tillyaev says he is “unaware” of episode

A year lat­er, anoth­er com­pa­ny in Timur Tillyaev’s net­work, Silk Road Cargo, based in Dubai, was under inves­ti­ga­tion. In October 2014, the Uzbek direc­tor of Silk Road Cargo, Aleksey Yaitskiy, is arrest­ed and impris­oned for cor­rup­tion in Dubai, for offer­ing 100,000 Euro of bribes to an Emirate offi­cial. He was even­tu­al­ly allowed to leave the country.

Tillyaev’s lawyer says that Yaitskiy “was not act­ing on behalf of the com­pa­ny” and that he was imme­di­ate­ly dis­missed. Despite this inci­dent, Yaitskiy was appoint­ed short­ly after­wards to the Uzbekistan Airways office in London [Today the air­line con­firmed Yaitskiy worked there, but state he left the com­pa­ny some time ago].

Now Yaitskiy is on LinkedIn, where his only job list­ed is ‘advi­sor’ to Silk Road, the name of Tillyaev’s firm.

Alexei Yaitskiy: dis­missed from Silk Road Cargo after bribe charge, still list­ed as ‘advi­sor’

Mafia Boss’s Former Collaborators Connected to Dealings

Timur Tillyev picked col­lab­o­ra­tors with a past con­nect­ed to orga­nized crime. According to EIC sources and media reports, Aleksey Yaitskiy and the direc­tor of Securtrade Alimbekov Dovronbek, are both close and for­mer employ­ees to the senior Uzbek god­fa­ther, Salim Abduvaliyev, known as ‘Salimboy’.

Uzbek mafia boss Salim Abduvaliyev (far left, yel­low tie) with Aleksey Yaitskiy (striped tie), for­mer man­ag­er of UAE-based com­pa­ny in Lola Karimova’s husband’s net­work. Picture tak­en at at Uzbek Airways-con­nect­ed event (Credit: RFE/Ozodlik)

Aged 67, Abduvaliyev is described as a “mafia chief­tain” in a U.S. diplo­mat­ic cable pub­lished by Wikileaks. Close to the for­mer dic­ta­tor and father of Lola, Islam Karimov, he is described in this cable as the man who super­vis­es the bribes paid by for­eign investors to access busi­ness­es in Uzbekistan. Timur and ‘Salimboy’ have also been described in the press as ‘close’.

Mr. Tillyaev has no per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship with Salim Abdvaliev [sic] and is unaware of any rela­tion­ship Mr. Dovronbek or Yaitskiy alleged­ly has or had with him,” his lawyer replies.

The Securtrade sys­tem brings in mega prof­its. Since our doc­u­ments cov­er only the years 2013 and 2014, Lola Karimova and her hus­band have prob­a­bly cashed in Dubaï much more than the 127 mil­lion USD of which we are aware.

Did Lola Karimova and her hus­band trans­fer their for­tune abroad to pro­tect them­selves in the event of polit­i­cal changes in Uzbekistan? Has this sys­tem been put in place to reduce their tax bill? Their lawyer says that “Mr. Tillyaev reports his com­pa­nies in his fil­ings and pays taxes.”

But their wealth could be at risk. On 8 September 2016, less than a week after the death of Islam Karimov, the Uzbek news­pa­per UzMetronom report­ed that the author­i­ties had launched an inspec­tion of the Abu Sahiy mar­ket on sus­pi­cions of tax eva­sion and ille­gal use of for­eign currency.

According to the Ferghana News web­site, this ‘oper­a­tion’ could pre­pare the trans­fer of the mar­ket to the rel­a­tives of the new Uzbek pres­i­dent, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. This is like­ly to be his son-in-law Oybek Saidov, who is under­stood to be a direc­tor in the Presidential administration.

”[Tillyaev] is not aware of any inves­ti­ga­tion of Abu Sahiy by Uzbek author­i­ties and remains the 100% share­hold­er of Abu Sahiy […] more than a year after his father in law’s death,” states his lawyer, Mark F Raymond.

In his opin­ion, this sit­u­a­tion “evi­dences that the busi­ness did not ben­e­fit from a famil­ial or gov­ern­ment-pro­tect­ed status.”

Business empires can rise and fall in Uzbekistan in a mat­ter of weeks, in a coun­try where many of the biggest names in trade are now in exile or prison at home.

Possible sce­nar­ios include a strug­gle or a pow­er-shar­ing agree­ment between the fam­i­lies of the for­mer and cur­rent ruler.

But in a coun­try as closed as Uzbekistan, it is hard to find proof about where the pow­er lies, and how that pow­er is exercised.

BY YANN PHILIPPIN (MEDIAPART) AND MICHAEL BIRD (THE BLACK SEA), WITH SYLVAIN BESSON (LE TEMPS)

Offshore scheme behind the rich­es of Uzbek dic­ta­tor’s daughter

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