Gulnora Karimova, Princess of the Uzbeks

by Nathan Hamm on 1/10/2004

Gulnora Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, is the centerpiece in a running drama that complicates US-Uzbek relations. She was once married to Mansur Maqsudi, brother of a family friend, and part of the Uzbek emigre community in the US. Moving back and forth between New Jersey and Tashkent, the couple had two children (though the story doesn’t say where), and Maqsudi filed for divorce in 2000 in New Jersey courts, claiming he couldn’t get a fair trial in Uzbekistan.

He’s most certainly right. [I don’t know if he’s an American citizen, but his non-Russified surname suggests his family is either very traditional or left Uzbekistan before the Soviets took over. There are Uzbek emigre communities in, if my memory serves me, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia that are composed of families who fled the Bolshevik takeover in the 1920’s. The latter group played an important role in introducing Wahabbism to Central Asia, but that’s a sorty for another day.] In Tashkent, the divorce brought jubilation to Peace Corps Volunteers who loved Pepsi. Maqsudi owned Uzbekistan’s Coca-Cola Bottling Plant and was protected from serious Pepsi competition by ubelievably high tariffs. This was understanding considering the following:

n his legal submissions to the divorce court, Maqsudi claims that, following his split from his wife, his business interests in Uzbekistan were crippled. A month after their separation, a series of raids began on Coca-Cola’s local bottling plant – by tax inspectors, fire inspectors, customs inspectors, and even an anti-narcotics official; this culminated in a four-month shut-down of the plant. Uzbekistan’s attorney general also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maqsudi, his brother and his father, accusing them of tax evasion, corruption and trading oil for Saddam Hussein. The Uzbeki authorities deny that there was any connection between these actions and the divorce proceedings of the President’s daughter.

I would have stayed married.

Anyhow, Karimova hasn’t showed up for court dates after fleeing to Tashkent with her children, and in 2002, the courts awarded Maqsudi sole custody of the children. Poor Gulnora pleads poverty, saying she simply couldn’t afford to return to New Jersey for her court appearances [note that the interview for this story takes place in Moscow in the cafe of a “smart hotel”]. This, in spite of the fact that she owns a major share in Uzbekitan’s cellular service provider.

Maqsudi’s family, though powerless in Uzbekistan, has enough sway in the United States to have had Karimova’s diplomatic passport cancelled, all of her assets in the US frozen, and a warrant issued for her arrest for failing to comply with the courts.

At the same time, the US will not press this issue too much so as to avoid causing friction with President Karimov. It should also be mentioned that this fugitive from New Jersey justice may end up succeeding her father one day.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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