Monday 23 October 2017

Government urged to block handover of bribe probe cash

Activists say repatriating seized assets to Uzbekistan could fund corruption, writes Simon Rowe

In a letter to the Government, a group of 11 political exiles from Uzbekistan has demanded the assets
In a letter to the Government, a group of 11 political exiles from Uzbekistan has demanded the assets "should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption" by way of charities and trusts (Stock picture)

Simon Rowe

The Government has been urged to intervene to prevent the repatriation to Uzbekistan of $114m (€107m) of assets seized in Irish bank accounts last year by US authorities after an investigation into one of the world's biggest corporate bribery cases.

US authorities were granted seizure orders over hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets held in Irish bank accounts allegedly linked to Gulnara Karimova - daughter of former Uzbek dictator Islam Karimova - which they allege are the proceeds of corrupt payments to Uzbek officials by two of Russia's largest telecoms companies.

The US Department of Justice claims the money is linked to corrupt payments made by MTS, Russia's largest mobile operator, and Vimpelcom, the world's sixth-largest telecoms company, to Ms Karimova from 2006 to 2012 to secure mobile phone licences and radio frequencies from the Uzbek state.

The money was allegedly involved in a complicated series of transactions involving US financial institutions before being used to purchase investment portfolios and assets in Ireland. The funds targeted for seizure are held at Bank of New York Mellon Investment Servicing (International) in Ireland. A further stay was put on a court order to seize the Irish-based assets in recent days to enable further high-level talks between the Republic of Uzbekistan and US officials in a bid to reach an out-of-court resolution.

A group of political exiles from Uzbekistan has now called on the Irish government to intervene to ensure the assets are not repatriated as there is a risk it will "encourage new criminal practice".

In a letter to the Government, a group of 11 political exiles from Uzbekistan has demanded the assets "should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption" by way of charities and trusts.

"We are against the return of the assets to the government of Uzbekistan, which is among the most corrupt and repressive in the world. We believe that the proceeds from corruption should be used as redress for the people of Uzbekistan, truly the victims of state organized corruption.

"We call on you not to return these assets to the government of Uzbekistan at this time because the government of Uzbekistan fails to address the issues of systemic corruption." The governments of Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the US should act in the interests of Uzbek victims of corruption.

"Doing so will also protect western businesses from falling into a trap of shadowy deals with corrupt Uzbek officials - and facing multi-million penalties for bribery and misleading shareholders," they wrote.

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