Switzerland to return Uzbekistan's assets frozen in money laundering probe

A view shows a villa that once belonged to Gulnara Karimova, a jailed daughter of late President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, in Sijjak, Uzbekistan April 16, 2021. The government of Uzbekistan is auctioning off the luxury villa on the condition that it is turned into a hotel. REUTERS/Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov

GENEVA, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland agreed on Tuesday to send back to Uzbekistan over $100 million which it seized during a long-running investigation in connection with the daughter of former president Islam Karimov.

The ongoing criminal proceedings against Gulnara Karimova in Switzerland which have involved suspected money laundering via telecommunications contracts have so far resulted in the seizure of $131 million. The Swiss foreign ministry said more funds might become available from assets that may be confiscated in future.

The deal signed in Bern between Switzerland's president Ignazio Cassis and the Uzbek Minister of Justice Ruslanbek Davletov will establish a trust fund and use the money for sustainable development projects in the Central Asian country.

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"The fund will allow the returned assets to be used for the benefit of the population of Uzbekistan," Cassis said.

Islam Karimov ruled Uzbekistan for 27 years until his death in 2016. His daughter Karimova was once a successful businesswoman and her country's United Nations representative in Geneva. She was jailed back in Uzbekistan in 2019 for violating the terms of her house arrest after receiving a five-year sentence in 2015 on charges of embezzlement and extortion.

She has denied any wrongdoing.

Switzerland, a popular residence for the global elite, says it has returned approximately $2 billion of stolen assets to their countries of origin over the past 30 years.

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Reporting by Emma Farge Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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