Uzbekistan jails ex-president's daughter Gulnara Karimova

Moscow (AFP) - Uzbekistan said Friday it has jailed the eldest daughter of late President Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova -- once a prominent socialite, fashion designer and singer -- after charging her with massive fraud and money laundering.

In a statement the Uzbekistan Prosecutor-General's Office said that "Gulnara Karimova has been charged" with crimes including fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency "and she has been held behind bars".

The statement also said she was a member of an "organised criminal group" that controlled assets worth more than $1.3 billion in 12 countries.

It said these included London properties worth £22.9 million ($29.95 million) and hotels in Dubai worth $67.4 million.

Karimova, 45, is the eldest daughter of the late authoritarian president of the secretive ex-Soviet Central Asian state, who died last year.

She has been reportedly under house arrest in the country since 2014 after publicly feuding with her mother and her younger sister Lola on Twitter. She did not attend her father's funeral in September.

In the first official statement on her current status, the Prosecutor-General's Office said that in 2015 she was handed a five-year non-custodial sentence.

Karimova was once a high-profile figure tipped to succeed her father, serving in diplomatic posts including as ambassador to Spain and Uzbekistan's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

She also organised a fashion week, had her own jewellery line and released pop singles under the name Googoosha as well as running entertainment television channels.

Russian journalist and Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov told Echo of Moscow radio on Friday that the public announcement after years of secrecy surrounding Karimova was due to "the necessity for the new Uzbek authorities to show results in the investigation ahead of the first anniversary of Islam Karimov's death."

It is also intended to show the government is making real attempts to recover assets abroad connected to Karimova and her allies, he said.

- Penthouse in Hong Kong -

Properties that prosecutors claim are controlled by Karimova and her "criminal group" include a penthouse in a Hong Kong residential complex that is reportedly one of the most expensive in Asia as well as a villa in the glamorous Rublyovka suburb of Moscow.

The statement noted that investigators had sent orders to authorities in the relevant countries to seize the assets with the aim of "returning them to Uzbekistan."

Among the long list of allegations against Karimova are that she fraudulently acquired assets worth $595 million and received $869.3 million in kickbacks that were paid into offshore accounts.

The statement said that Karimova's 2015 conviction and the current charges she faces are based in part on testimony from other members of the alleged criminal group, including Rustam Madumarov, once widely believed to be Karimova's boyfriend.

Karimova has two known children, a son, Islam Karimov Jr born in 1992, and a daughter, Iman Karimova, born in 1998, both from her former marriage to US businessman Mansur Maqsudi.

In an interview with the BBC in December, her London-based son called on authorities in Uzbekistan to prove that his mother was alive and well.

Karimova is also the subject of a multi-year corruption probe targeting Western telecoms firms that US and European investigators say paid her billions of dollars to secure access to the national market.

Swiss prosecutors reportedly questioned her in Tashkent in December, quashing rumours of her possible death.