Washington Babylon — June 6, 2007, 11:41 am

One Lump or Two? Uzbek dictator’s daughter wipes out competing tea firm with “brain” and “muscle”

I reported last month on how Washington insiders at a firm called GlobalOptions were working on behalf of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and subject of an Interpol arrest warrant. The whole Karimov clan has grown rich through corruption and a new lawsuit charges that GlobalOptions’s client employs mob tactics as part of her business practices.

The lawsuit was brought by Interspan, a Texas tea firm, which is suing an insurance company called Liberty. The latter, the suit alleges, refused to honor a policy bought by Interspan after that company was driven out of Uzbekistan. “Interspan became the target of an extortion scheme that had as its objective the illegal appropriation of Interspan’s valuable business assets in Uzbekistan,” the lawsuit says. “Interspan was advised that this extortion scheme was orchestrated by individuals with ties to the highest levels of the Uzbek government, including Gulnara Karimova.”

According to the lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Texas, Interspan began operation in Uzbekistan in 1998 and by May of 2005 held a 30 percent share of the country’s packaged tea market. This annoyed Gulnara, whose vast business interests included a state firm with an interest in the local tea market.

In February of 2006, the lawsuit says, hooded men with machine guns, allegedly working for the Uzbek intelligence service, seized Eskender Kiamilev, the father of one of Interspan’s principals. At the same time, armed government agents “entered Interspan’s offices and warehouses in Tashkent and demanded all of Interspan’s physical property, including a large inventory of tea.” Soldiers also seized a large compound and two apartments belonging to the Kiamilev family.

That same month, Interspan received an email from Liberty’s agent in Uzbekistan, which read: “The Samarqand Tea Factory [allegedly owned by Gulnara] is the primary raw tea processor and monopoly supported by the state and has drawn the interest of the first family. I am sure Eskender has been under observation for some time and only now was a decision taken to neutralize him and remove his network from the market. If the state or Samarqand Tea can dismantle the Interspan network then I think any personal interest in holding Eskender will disappear.”

The agent warned in another email to Interspan that it would be imprudent to complain to Gulnara or her business associates:

Gulnara is the “Brain,” Usmanov is the “Muscle and experience” and Harry is the “Front and buffer.” Be very careful if you choose to contact him. If I were to contact him I would limit the conversation to informing him that you suspect he and ZeroMax [another firm owned by Gulnara] are behind all the events which are going on now and you consider them to be financially and legally responsible for your losses. He has no sympathy for anyone except himself and his son who is often in Tashkent. Treat any encounter with him as a “dance with the cobra.”

The government later released Kiamilev, but arrested Mikhail Matkarimov, another Interspan employee, and charged him with grand theft, illegal sale of goods for cash through the black market, and involvement in a criminal organization. He was convicted on all counts last August; Interspan claims that government agents used torture and threats of torture to obtain false testimony against him. The judgment also authorized the seizure and sale of all of Interspan’s assets in Uzbekistan.

Soon afterwards, Matkarimov was set free, which Interspan says indicates that his arrest and prosecution “were undertaken for no other purpose than to threaten Interspan and to extort Interspan’s business assets.” Interspan says it has been told that “a company in which Ms. Karimova has an ownership interest has taken over those assets.”

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