Unlike Farhad & Shirin

by Nathan Hamm on 4/13/2004 · 7 comments

Mansur Maqsudi and Gulnora Karimova could probably care less were the other to drop dead.

I’ve been flooded with hits from google, searching for “Gulnora Karimova.” Lots of government domains too, a lot more than usual anyway. Not since my Dean Screech post have I gotten so many search engine hits.

Anyway, it turns out that there is a fantastically detailed story in the WaPo today on the ongoing Karimova/Maqsudi divorce saga. If you’ll remember from way back, Karimova is the daughter of President Islam Karimov. Her ex-husband, Mansur Maqsudi, is a US citizen of Afghan extraction (which was new to me… I had heard earlier that he was from Uzbekistan’s emigre community, which I guess still could be true…). He married Karimova in 1991, moved her to New Jersey, had a couple kids, built his business empire with help of his father-in-law (he owned Coca-Cola Uzbekistan), and found his wife and kids gone one morning in 2001. New Jersey wants her on kidnapping charges. Uzbekistan wants him for, well, to be honest, revenge. Both have filed cases with Interpol, making Europe off-limits to the both of them.

To make matters worse, Maqsudi has some fairly impressive connections in Congress and government, and he’s trying to make the case an issue in US-Uzbek relations. I mean, I do kind of feel for the guy, but marrying into that family is not something I would really consder a wise move in the first place, and there are a number of more pressing issues.

The WaPo story is particularly good because it involves extensive interviews from both Maqsudi and Karimova. I’m also going to have to expand on Arash’s praise for their Afghanistan coverage and name them the best damned US news source for Central Asia.

This entire story makes the two look fated for a failed relationship from the get-go.

It wasn’t much of a romance. They met in person only one other time before they got married, the night he asked for her hand. Maqsudi insisted their parents negotiate the marriage, she recalls, and declined at first to share a drink to celebrate. They married in Tashkent a month later, in November 1991, followed by a reception she now describes as “quite boring.” A week later, they went to New Jersey, where they married again.

Not that this is uncommon in Uzbekistan, but “modern” (read “Russified”) Uzbeks aren’t particularly keen on this system. To make matters worse, traditional Afghan family life is a bit of a bore to a young princess.

Two or three times a week, she says, they would go to his mother’s house, where Karimova found traditional Afghan family life stultifying. “It was really difficult because I was from a small family and used to more open relations, and in their family it’s more like, if this one talks, you are not supposed to talk, that one is a relative of this relative, you are not supposed to speak with the aunt.”

At New Year’s, the most festive holiday in former Soviet republics, the Maqsudis barely celebrated. “They sat on the floor and ate on the floor,” she says. When midnight came and no one got excited, “I sat and cried next to the TV.”

And in Maqsudi’s complaints about the Karimovs, we learn an interesting, but unsurprising tid-bit on the head of the clan,

If she found his family too quiet, he found hers too noisy. “When you argued with him,” Maqsudi says, referring to President Karimov, “the loudest would win the argument. It wasn’t about facts, it wasn’t about arguments. It was about who could shout the loudest.”

Honestly, read the rest for the tabloid-riffic details. She says he’s a religious fanatic, he says she’s a drunk party-girl who’s going to hell for wearing g-strings. He got mad, cancelled her credit cards. She used her bodyguards on him (note to self: Don’t marry a woman with a personal protection detail…).

Unfortunately, what should be a run-of-the-mill, if quite nasty, divorce case, is a real headache in US-Uzbek relations.

In recent months, both sides in the Uzbek divorce war have enlisted lobbyists and lawmakers in Washington to hurl charges and deflect countercharges. Karimova’s camp accuses Maqsudi’s firms of import-export shenanigans and various illegal practices. The most sensational allegation is that Maqsudi family companies shipped oil from Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in charge.

One key witness for Karimova, however, was former Maqsudi employee Farhod Inogambaev, who has since fled Uzbekistan and recanted his statements. “Everything was lies,” he says now in an interview from New Jersey.

After her separation from her husband, Karimova sent for him, Inogambaev says, and told him, “Forget about Mansur. Now let’s do business together.” Afraid for his family, he says, he went to work for her. She sent over men to have him swear out affidavits against her estranged husband. “I blindly signed, I blindly typed whatever they said. I just wanted them to leave me.”

Not only does Inogambaev now disavow the charges, he also alleges that Karimova siphoned tens of millions of dollars out of Uzbekistan through various channels, including her own Citibank account. And he claims that she took over a tourism firm that arranges visas for Uzbek travelers and used it to control the flow of Uzbek prostitutes to Dubai.

Karimova dismisses the allegations, calling them “more than crazy and more than stupid,” and contends that Inogambaev only “says that for money.”

Maqsudi’s Washington lobbyists, led by Richard A. Zimmer, a Republican former congressman from New Jersey, have gained some traction. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) raised the Interpol arrest warrant against Maqsudi during an October hearing, calling it “an abuse of power by the Uzbek president.” In February, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to look into the prostitution allegations, saying, “We ought to be following it up very rigorously.”

Not that I don’t feel for the guy, or think that the allegations against Karimova are worth looking into, I am just not terrible convinced that this is a case that Congresspeople need to be focusing on in the US-Uzbek relationship. A “rigorous follow-up” should be reserved for Uzbek claims that they are making progress on EBRD human rights benchmarks or living up to their agreements with us.

And then there’s this…

On the other side, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) has taken up Karimova’s cause, requesting that Attorney General John Ashcroft investigate allegations made against Maqsudi in Uzbekistan.

Not that I’ll assume Maqsudi is an innocent little angel, but Curt Weldon has had a history of being a cheerleader for Uzbekistan.

Thankfully, neither government considers the case a terribly high priority,

Asked about the case in private, uncomfortable U.S. officials decline to say much. For the record, they call it “an international child abduction case” and say they have told Tashkent “that these issues are unnecessary irritants in the U.S.-Uzbek relationship,” according to a written State Department response to congressional inquiries last year.

Uzbek officials appear no more eager to talk about it. “It’s a very complicated issue, and I think we should be very sensitive in touching this very delicate issue,” Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev said in an interview in Tashkent last fall. The two countries’ relationship has burdens enough.

Irritants enough is an understatement.

Just as a little aside to most of the above, it’s interesting to note the speculation at the end of the article about Karimova’s possible succession of her father (and the possibility that she’s developing business opportunities outside of Uzbekistan so that her family can flee the country if they need to…). It would be quite interesting if both Uzbekistan and Kazakstan ended up with the dictator’s daughters calling the shots.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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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Cosma April 13, 2004 at 1:04 pm

Maqsudi’s family are Uzbeks from Afghanistan.

Mark April 13, 2004 at 8:50 pm

What time and channel is this soap opera on? What? This is real? Awesome. Get some camera crews, this would make a great Fox show.

Nathan April 13, 2004 at 11:09 pm

It’s real. This story brought in, I would estimate, over 400 hits today just from searches.

Surgei April 17, 2004 at 9:47 am

All I have to say is Gulnora was crazy and she got crazier when see saw more money and power.

private July 30, 2004 at 1:56 pm

yeah if there is a show it will be great, also note that she is not letting him see the kids since 3 years and he can’t even talk to them in any way, she is one horrible crazy women

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