Natalia Antelava is reporting more from Ukraine these days while not forgetting about her duties as the BBC Central Asia correspondent and from time to time is reporting on events taking place in the countries of region, particularly – Uzbekistan.
Earlier this year, Natalia Antelava was concerned with the problem of forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan. In 2012 she was not allowed entry to Uzbekistan and was immediately deported upon landing at Tashkent airport. As a “persona non grata” in Uzbekistan she had to gather materials for her story from the territory of a neighboring country, Kazakhstan.
In 2013, Natalia Antelava contacted Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, in order to obtain “official” reasons of why she was denied entry, but failed to receive any answers. Gulnara outright ignored her questions just like she ignored inquiries from European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, Andrew Stroehlein , who was seeking her opinion on Human Rights violations in Uzbekistan. Moreover, anyone who dared to ask Gulnara an acute question was hounded by her numerous “trolls” with unhealthy aggression and offensive language, which Gulnara encouraged them to use against foreign journalists and human rights defenders.
Apparently, the son of Gulnara, Islam Karimov Jr, who was recently interviewed by Natalia Antelava for BBC, meant precisely those internet “trolls”, referring to them as “pro-Western youth of Uzbekistan who have now lost their jobs and any meaning of their lives together with their princess”. Isn’t it ironic?
Let us step back and try to understand the situation here.
Both within and outside of Uzbekistan it was obvious that Gulnara Karimova is a favorite of her father, and was simply referred to as the “Uzbek princess.” After graduating from Harvard in June 2000, she became adviser to several foreign affairs officials and advanced to the position of Deputy Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan. In a 2005 U.S. cable, she was described as “the single most hated person” in the country. According to the cable, she was perceived as greedy, power-hungry and interested in using her father’s power to her own financial advantage. The diplomatic analysis concluded that recent PR campaigns “promoting [her] virtue and selflessness [were] likely part of a larger strategy to clean up the First Daughter’s image.” By 2010 Gulnara Karimova owned the largest conglomerate of Uzbekistan, which she used in support of her private business interests.
Over the years, Gulnara Karimova as the president’s daughter was exploiting autocratic system of the government including national security special services to build her a prodigious fortune. Revealing violation of Human Rights and government corruption was never in the interest of her business empire.
In Uzbekistan, Gulnara controlled the most lucrative national industries, specifically oil refining, gold and telecommunications (including mobile phone service providers, television and radio stations), as well as nightclubs. The latter were long-suspected centers of prostitution and transshipment points for the trafficking of women to Dubai.
She had her people working on her orders virtually in all government programs – from public construction projects to social support for women suffering from breast cancer, all with the same sole goal – to let the budget flow through her firms and companies and fill up her pocket. She controlled everything and everyone by fear, blackmailing or by making promises of a share. Paying tribute money to the Princess became common practice for foreign companies entering the Uzbek market. Monthly allocation of funds for protection racket became unofficial rule required for every business to run. All the charity organizations she organized were used to collect her “Rome-pennies” from every business that had interest in Uzbek market. Indeed philanthropy is a brilliant cover to conduct protection racket while posing as a social activist promoting creative intelligence, health and culture! Needless to mention here an episode with a collection of paintings discovered at her private Villa in Geneva, paintings that are known to be a national treasure of Uzbekistan, which were not supposed to be discovered abroad in her private possession.
In 2011, AP critically described Karimova as a “glamor queen, International diplomat, Plunderer of the poor.” In 2013, she was overwhelmed by a major corruption scandal in Sweden, in which journalists made public that Telecommunications giant TeliaSonera had allegedly bribed Uzbek officials to enter the country’s mobile phone market. Despite denials from TeliaSonera, the path of money was traced back by prosecutors to Karimova — a scandal in which she seems to have lost the loyalty and support of her dictatorial father.
Swedish journalists conducted an investigation revealing high-profile cases of corruption and money laundering schemes not only in Sweden but also in Switzerland, France, Latvia, and the Netherlands. More recently, Norway is added to the list of countries having their claims to Gulnara Karimova, suspecting her of taking bribes from Russian cellular company “VimpelCom”, which is a minority shareholder in the mobile giant “Telenor”. Swiss Federal Prosecutor Gunnar Stetler says that the total amount of assets frozen in bank accounts controlled by Gulnara Karimova and her frontmen, sums up into a record figure in the entire history of European practice!
Based on these developments European NGOs OCCPR named Gulnara Karimova “criminal of the year” in 2013. And long before that in diplomatic cables the US State Department published on WikiLeaks, Gulnara Karimova has been awarded another no less shameful title of “Robber Baroness.”
In October, the accounts of companies linked to her were frozen, and her television and radio stations were taken off the air. Thereafter she began publishing her frustrations via the social media, suspecting the head of the Uzbek National Security Service of having turned her father against her, and accusing her mother and estranged sister of “dabbling in witchcraft”.
Once considered one of the most powerful people in Central Asia, untouchable by authorities, Karimova’s number has finally been called in a criminal investigation which has been going on for over six months.
“The parts of the criminal case…for which it was impossible to collect all the necessary evidence have been allotted in a separate procedure…specifically, this includes the matter of Karimova G.,” a press statement released last week by the Uzbek Prosecutor General’s Office read.
Although, there is no information yet on charges being pressed against Gulnara Karimova, Uzbek authorities reported that investigation on her case is ongoing and everyone in Uzbekistan is anxious to hear the charges and sentence.
So what is prompting a once ignored Natalia Anteleva to evoke a subtle public compassion towards Gulnara Karimova by interviewing her son, Islam Karimov Jr?
Could this yellow-press approach be Antelava’s way of obtaining some extra cash in addition to her “modest” BBC salary?
It is almost surprising to see such a biased interview being aired, so boldly not being afraid of risking bringing on herself assumptions about the possibility of a hefty profit.
The “stocky boy” she is interviewing obviously has mommy’s money to pay for his “political refugee” status.
Needless to say, the interview looks not just subjective and biased, but unprofessional.
It is indeed amusing to watch how Natalia Antelava poses as a journalist who is for the first time learning about a country called Uzbekistan, as naively, fondly and with a great willingness she is carried away in conversation that is filled with questions nowhere near those that she was once trying to get answers for. Nowise is she trying to objectively challenge him to receive from him any worthwhile information.
Well actually this looks like her typical self, Natalia Antelava who can readily play the role of a naive good willed concerned person asking nice questions and listening with a holy trust in her eyes. After all, her talents proved to be handy in the past.
In 2007, she received an enviable fee from a Chinese company for the series of reports that she prepared about Turkmenistan, an autocratic state second to none. At that time, the journalist who poses as an objective and harsh critic of Uzbek authoritarianism was describing the radically improving situation in Turkmenistan following the election of a new president. I do not know if this stuff ever reached the air of Western broadcast, but those who wish to get an idea of her resourcefulness and demonstrative childish naiveness can find those materials on the Russian-language sites “CentrAsia” and “Fergana”. Just for fun, try comparing the content of the article by Natalia Antelava “Opening Turkmenistan. Country of mystery breaks stereotypes” with the data of Human Rights Watch. The same organization whose reports Antelava certainly used as a base when she was describing the situation in Uzbekistan.
Of course, this way of making money is a matter of a personal choice and the boundaries of the law. This applies to Gulnara Karimova, Natalia Antelava or Galina Bukharbayeva.
There are also facts worthwhile writing on a separate article about the London PR agency Davidson Ryan Dore hired by Gulnara’s son, using money that Gulnara looted over the years, so that they can now use them to “rescue Gulnara”.
Going back to the interview of Natalia Antelava and Islam Karimov jr. In general his statements about the situation with Gulnara are inconsistent, to say the least. In the fall and disgrace of his mother he blames his grandmother, aunt, special services, conspiracy, witchcraft, and even a “group of persons” that based on given descriptions should be some comic book characters. This notorious expression “victim of forces struggling for power” seems just mocking in the context of ongoing scandals and all the money on frozen bank accounts in seven countries.
But to “naïve” Antelava, this is just a mother and sons’ genuine helpless plea for help. So she goes “Ahww… poor baby! What a tragic drama in the family!” And what does Shakespeare have to do with all of this; (much ado about nothing)? Is this the “objective journalism presenting deep analysis of the situation” that BBC encourages?
Although I find it as an extremely dull exercise to continue with any further analysis of the “interview”, yet I so wanted her to ask him a few questions…For example: Could you please tell us about where was your kind and sweet grandfather, Islam Karimov who doesn’t have any idea about what is going on around him, who is being kept under the watchful eye of your grandmother and the security services, and why for almost a year he does not ask questions – where’s my favorite daughter and grandchildren?
Do you think that that Gunnar Stetler, as well as his colleagues in Paris, Riga, Stockholm, Oslo and Amsterdam are all part of the conspiracy plotted by your grandmother or special services?
And the last questionI want to addressto the world community- do you think it would be fair to close theinvestigation, return all the frozen assets to “Her Highness” together with our apologies?
I am sure it is not a struggle for power but her greediness and improvidence that put her in this position, so no way can she be considered as a political prisoner.
Money comes and goes, and then comes again. Same cannot be said about reputation, once it is lost, it is gone for good. And it is also a question of integrity, no matter who you are; policeman, beaurocrat, politician, journalist or a princess.