Who is… Gulnara Karimova, the Uzbek multi-millionaire under investigation



Bless you.

No, no, Googoosha – pop star alter ego of Gulnara Karimova, 47, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov. Her website once described her as a “poet, mezzo-soprano, designer and exotic beauty”. Her fans, who sound suspiciously like people employed to be fans. Her Twitter account launched her pop career in 2012 with the bold entreaty: “Love Katy Perry? Follow dance pop sensation Googoosha!”.

Funny, I haven’t seen her riding high on the iTunes charts recently.

That’s because she’s currently languishing in an Uzbekistan jail.

Crimes against the arts, is it?

No, although the less said about her duet with French actor Gerard Depardieu, the better. Karimova was actually arrested last March, accused of extorting more than £661 million in bribes while her despot pop was running the post-Soviet shop. She’s had a roster of jobs almost as sprawling as her property empire How many CVs can boast a position as ambassador to the UN, real estate mogul, pop maven and fashion designer? 

No comment. What was the father like?

Nice guy. Often described as one of the most brutal rulers to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union, exemplified by the use of forced labour for Uzbekistan’s annual cotton harvest. He was known to pitch heavy marble ashtrays at senior aides and ordered troops to fire on a crowd of thousands of protesters in the city of Andijon, killing at least 700 people.

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​Karimova Sr popped his clogs in 2016. Glamorous older daughter Gulnara Karimova had actually once been seen as having a promising political future, but those prospects disintegrated in a very public soap opera involving charges of bribery, money laundering, physical violence and even sorcery.

Abra-Ca-what now?

She disappeared from public view (not the sorcery bit) in 2014 following reports that her father was furious as seeing photographs of her semi-naked wearing peacock feathers. Opposition websites alleged that Mr. Karimov beat his daughter in a fit of rage before jailing some of her associates and confining her to her home, where she remained incommunicado.

How awful.

It gets weirder. Karimova herself took to social media at the time to accuse her mother and her younger sister of dabbling in witchcraft. “The other part of the family destroys and is friends with sorcerers,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.

Why are we talking about her now?

Well, anti-corruption officers are now trying to seize the Harvard-educated socialite’s assets in (deep breath) Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Latvia, Malta, Germany, Spain, Russia, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.

That’s not so close to home.

The Serious Fraud Office are after Surrey’s Gorse Hill Manor, a mansion in the Wentworth Estate gated community, snapped up by one of her shell companies for £18 million in 2010 and now estimated to be worth £30 million. The neighbourhood gang included the Sultan of Brunei, the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Sir Bruce Forsyth. Oh, and investigators are also after an £8 million home in London’s Mayfair and a £2 million apartment in Belgravia.

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A juicy bonus. So that’s it for the pop career?

You’d think so, but stranger things have happened to the relatives of villainous world figures. Let’s not forget that Osama Bin Laden’s niece Wafah Dufour is currently making a solid stab at launching a career as a punk rocker.

Anything to fall back on?

In 2011, she staged a fashion show in New York for her eponymous clothing line, which includes designs made from cotton that Uzbek children have been forced to pick for free instead of going to school. She reportedly charges $20,000 cash in advance for an interview. And there are always royalties from her back-catalogue, melodic bangers like “How Dare?”.

A Greta Thunberg tribute act?

She sashays under a red light on a building site spouting lines like “you look fine, but what’s on your mind?” repeatedly.



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