BATTLE ROYAL -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 11, 2004)
HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2004
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, the Washington Post recently published a very interesting and revealing story by Peter Baker that describes how the authoritarian government of Uzbekistan has allowed a personal family dispute with an American citizen from New Jersey to spill over into the realms of international diplomacy. The problem has gotten so bad that the government of Uzbekistan is now abusing one of the most important international institutions used to fight crime and apprehend terrorists-the Interpol Red Notice system.
Mr. Mansur Maqsudi is an American citizen who lives in New Jersey. Shortly after Mr. Maqsudi asked his wife Gulnora Karimova-who happens to be the daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov-for a divorce in July of 2002, she left their home in New Jersey to Uzbekistan and illegally brought along their two young children (both of whom are American citizens). In defiance of a U.S. custody order and a U.S. arrest warrant against Ms. Karimova, Mr. Maqsudi has been denied the right to visit his children for more than 2 ½ years.
The vendetta waged by the Government of Uzbekistan against this American citizen has grown into far more than a mere child-custody dispute. Three of Mansur's family relatives in Uzbekistan were-and still are-imprisoned on nebulous charges. Despite their eligibility for a general amnesty, they remain in captivity. Twenty-four other relatives were deported from Uzbekistan at gunpoint in the middle of the night in the dead of winter into a war zone in Afghanistan.
Then his family's businesses in Tashkent were expropriated and seized without just compensation (or any compensation in some cases). Flimsy criminal charges were then filed against him, his brother, and his father (all of whom are American citizens). Most outside observers of Uzbek politics, including the U.S. State Department in testimony before Congress, have concluded that these charges were political and not supported with valid evidence.
The Uzbek government then placed all three U.S. citizens on the Interpol Red Notice list. Fortunately, the U.S. Government has studied these cases and decided not to act on any of them because the evidence was so weak. However, when any of those listed travels abroad, they are subjected to the risk of arrest and even possible extradition to Uzbekistan. Instead of focusing law enforcement efforts on apprehending real criminals and terrorists, the bogus Red Notices issued by Uzbekistan are now diverting scarce police attention towards the furtherance of a personal family feud.
This is an outrage, Mr. Speaker. I urge the Executive Branch of our Government to make it clear to Uzbek President Karimov that his country's status as an ally in the War against Terror does not give him carte blanche to totally disregard the 2002 bilateral agreement between the United States and Uzbekistan and abuse the rights of American citizens.
The Interpol Red Notice system is a critical element in the War on Terrorism. And yet here, the Government of Uzbekistan is pulling at the loose threads which make up the fabric of an entire international system that has worked well for years. The end result of Uzbekistan's actions will cause more governments around the world to question the legitimacy of other countries' Red Notice submissions. Countries will now have to decide which arrest warrants to obey, and which warrants to ignore. To the extent that member countries fill the system with garbage warrants that are purely political and violate Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution, it undermines the respect and reciprocity that are at the very heart of Interpol's effectiveness. Interpol is far too important in the fight against drug traffickers, terrorists, and criminals to allow it to be undermined by autocratic regimes who want to harass their political and personal enemies around the world.
I believe the issues at stake in this family dispute go way beyond child custody and divorce. The very heart of a major international institution that is vital to the War on Terrorism is being openly challenged. Nations that flagrantly violate Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution-like Uzbekistan is doing in this particular case-need to pay some kind of diplomatic penalty for doing so. If countries can undermine Interpol at will and without penalty, reproach, or criticism, what is to prevent the system from being flooded with political Red Notices issued by repressive regimes against their enemies? How do we avoid nations refusing to honor each others' requests? [From the Washington Post, Apr. 13, 2004]
BATTLE ROYAL-THE DAUGHTER OF UZBEKISTAN'S PRESIDENT TOOK HER CHILDREN AND RAN, OPENING A CUSTODY WAR THAT HAS ENTANGLED TWO NEW ALLIES
(By Peter Baker)
MOSCOW.-The day she left for good, she packed up her things and decamped from their New Jersey home with her two children, two nannies, two bodyguards and a driver.
On a table she left a note for her husband. She mentioned an old movie playing on cable--"The War of the Roses," the 1989 dark comedy featuring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as hate-driven spouses whose divorce turns into an orgy of revenge. She jotted down the time the show would air and pointedly suggested he watch.
Whether that was prophecy or threat, a war soon broke out. It turns out that divorcing Gulnora Karimova, known as "the Uzbek princess," is no simple matter. Her father is Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan and autocrat nonpareil, who rules over a repressive Central Asian country where prisoners have been boiled alive. He also happens to be a key ally in America's war on terrorism.
Karimova took the kids in 2001 and has been ducking an arrest warrant issued by a New Jersey judge ever since, hiding out in Moscow, where she knows officials won't cross her father. As for her husband, Mansur Maqsudi, an Afghan American businessman, he has learned the price of crossing his powerful father-in-law. Since Maqsudi and his wife split up, the Uzbek government has effectively taken away his Coca-Cola bottling plant, imprisoned three of his relatives and deported 24 more of them at gunpoint to war-torn Afghanistan.
"She said if I do divorce her she was going to destroy my family, destroy my business and make sure I could never see my kids," Maqsudi, 37, says by telephone from New Jersey. "And if you look at it, that's exactly what happened."
Karimova, 31, offers the mirror-opposite interpretation. She only stayed with Maqsudi so long, she says, because she feared he would use a breakup against her family politically. "He said that it would be a huge scandal and all this would come to your father and his name would be abused," she says. "I never want to disappoint my father."
This tabloid drama threatens to complicate U.S. relations with its important new friend in a volatile region. The State Department, Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service, Interpol and various courts, embassies and congressional committees have all been drawn into the fray. Teams of American lobbyists have been recruited to fight the ground war. As New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deanne M. Wilson said at a court hearing last year, "This is not just a garden-variety custody case."
The allegations fly back and forth-kidnapping, tax evasion, forgery, smuggling, embezzlement, blackmail, money laundering and fraud. She accuses him of illegally selling Saddam Hussein's oil. He accuses her of shipping Uzbek girls to prostitution rings in Dubai. She describes him as a moralistic Muslim who once warned her she would burn in Hell for wearing a bikini. He depicts her as a spoiled rich girl who partied until the middle of the night, stumbling home drunk.
"It was a simple question of divorce," she says, in a considerable understatement, "but it was politicized from the very beginning." No Fairy-Tale Romance
She slips into the restaurant, statuesque and fashion-model thin, wearing boots a bit too stylish for the Russian snow and a skirt a bit too short for the Russian winter. Her bodyguard, tall and imposing, checks out the room in an instant, then discreetly disappears.
She rarely does interviews. Only after months of negotiations brokered by her father's foreign minister does she finally agree to talk, in hopes of rebutting the most sensational allegations flying around Washington that can only hurt her father's ties with the world's only superpower.
In person, Gulnora Karimova does not come across as the hardhearted, domineering figure her husband's partisans depict. "That's not me," she insists over tea. Speaking softly, she presents herself as a Harvard-educated diplomat and businesswoman, albeit one with a black belt in karate. She tells the story of her marriage and its collapse from the standpoint of a hurt woman.
The two met at her birthday party in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, in July 1991. Karimova was turning 19. "The world had just opened up for me," she recalls. "I'd just graduated from school and started the university, and everything was sort of pink skies." Mansur Maqsudi was 24, an Afghan native who immigrated to the United States as a child and became a naturalized citizen. "He was from a different world, he spoke a different language," she says.
It wasn't much of a romance. They met in person only one other time before they got married, the night he asked for her hand. Maqsudi insisted their parents negotiate the marriage, she recalls, and declined at first to share a drink to celebrate. They married in Tashkent a month later, in November 1991, followed by a reception she now describes as "quite boring." A week later, they went to New Jersey, where they married again.
As she was starting a new life, so was her homeland. Uzbekistan was emerging from the wreckage of the Soviet Union as an independent state, and her father, the republic's Communist boss, made a seamless transition to president of the new nation within weeks of Karimova's wedding.
An arid, cotton-producing country where Tamerlane once ruled a mighty empire, Uzbekistan with its 25 million people is the most populous and politically muscular of the five Central Asian states. Tashkent still feels Soviet, a well-ordered, uninspiring capital filled with drab, boxy apartment buildings and barely a taste of the dynamic new economy of far-away Moscow.
Under President Karimov, it has also become a terrifying place for some people, particularly observant Muslims who eschew government-controlled mosques. While Gulnora Karimova was at Harvard in 1999, a radical group called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan set off bombs in Tashkent that killed 16 people. Her father's secular government cracked down on political Islam, targeting even ordinary Muslims whose only crime appeared to be wearing a beard as a sign of faith.
About 7,000 people remain in prison for political or religious beliefs, and often they are beaten, choked, raped and punished with electric shocks, according to the State Department's human rights report. A U.N. special rapporteur has concluded that "torture or similar ill treatment is systematic." Human Rights Watch has found "human rights abuses on a massive scale."
At the notorious Jaslyk prison camp, built for religious prisoners in a desert where temperatures rise to 120 degrees, two men were submerged in boiling water and killed in 2002. The 62-year-old mother of one was arrested after protesting her son's death and sentenced to six years of hard labor for "attempted encroachment on the constitutional order." After an international outcry, Uzbekistan released her in February just hours before a visit by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Rather than snuff out Islamic extremism, however, Karimov's tactics may have only radicalized more young Muslims. A series of suicide bombings and other attacks two weeks ago left 47 people dead, a wave of violence tied by the government to al Qaeda-trained Uzbeks.
Karimova offers no apologies for her father. "He came from the strong old system with his own views, with his own standpoint and with his own rules of the game. So you can argue about new vision, new ability, but he is a professional and I prefer to think about him as a professional," she says. "Some people might like it, some people might not. But in the situation where we are geopolitically and geographically ..... you have to be strong to be able to rule." Meet the In-Laws
The newlyweds split their time between New Jersey and the presidential residence in Tashkent. A year after the wedding they had a son, Islam, named for his grandfather. A few years later, a daughter, Iman, came along.
Maqsudi's place in the presidential family certainly didn't hurt his expanding business empire. Soon he was running the lucrative Coca-Cola bottling factory in Uzbekistan as well as other enterprises.
But from the beginning, there were problems with the in-laws.
Two or three times a week, she says, they would go to his mother's house, where Karimova found traditional Afghan family life stultifying. "It was really difficult because I was from a small family and used to more open relations, and in their family it's more like, if this one talks, you are not supposed to talk, that one is a relative of this relative, you are not supposed to speak with the aunt."
At New Year's, the most festive holiday in former Soviet republics, the Maqsudis barely celebrated. "They sat on the floor and ate on the floor," she says. When midnight came and no one got excited, "I sat and cried next to the TV."
If she found his family too quiet, he found hers too noisy. "When you argued with him," Maqsudi says, referring to President Karimov, "the loudest would win the argument. It wasn't about facts, it wasn't about arguments. It was about who could shout the loudest."
As he describes it, the Karimovs were flush with power and money. In the office next to the president's bedroom, Maqsudi says, was a five-foot safe. He walked in once, Maqsudi says, and "I saw the first lady sitting on the floor counting a lot of cash."
During a trip to London, he says, Karimova decided to buy $230,000 worth of jewels. "I told Gulnora this is very expensive," he says. "She said she could buy them herself ..... She unzipped her bag and pulled out a few hundred thousands dollars, cash. I was shocked. I asked her, 'Where did you get this?' She said, 'Oh, it's from my mother.' "
For all the money, Karimova grew restless. "I was crying nonstop," she says. "Imagine, you sit all day alone, and with my very active life, when I used to go not just to the university but for languages, sport-I was dying." That's not how Maqsudi remembers it. "She would come home at 3 in the morning, sometimes drunk. Sometimes she wouldn't remember where she was."
Finally, she enrolled in Harvard for graduate studies on Central Asia. She says she had to persuade him to let her go back to school. He says he hoped "it would have a positive impact" and end her partying ways, but it didn't. They fought over other things. "I was not supposed to swim in the pool with my son because I was in a separate swimming suit," she says, meaning a bikini. "And he was, like, 'If you ever enter this swimming pool, you are not my son. And she will be burnt [in Hell] and you be burnt.'. . . He would make my son swim in a T-shirt."
Maqsudi angrily denies this. "Was she drunk that morning when you saw her?" he asks. "Was she sober? Honestly, these comments are so ridiculous, they don't deserve a reply." He says he objected to his wife's skimpy swimwear only when the hired help was around. "Gulnora was swimming with a G-string, not even a bathing suit, and these two bodyguards were lying there sunbathing."
But he rejects the implication that he is a religious fundamentalist. To prove it, Maqsudi e-mails pictures of his son scampering around outside without a shirt and another showing his wife in a virtually see-through shirt, noting her visible nipples. "I go to tailgate parties on Sundays to New York Jets football games," Maqsudi adds. "That should cover that."
In the summer of 2001, they were in Tashkent and preparing to head back to New Jersey, but the end was near. "The last months we were completely leading our own lives," she says. "It was clear that we were strangers by that time."
"That," he says, "was when all hell broke loose." the breakup
Maqsudi knew it was serious when his wife's bodyguards had him pinned against the wall. It was July and Karimova was furious. She had taken the children to Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey in a chauffeured car from the Uzbek U.N. delegation, only to discover at the ticket booth that her husband had canceled her credit cards. "When I came back home, he was there having tea as always in a big room with a happy face looking at us," she recalls. "I said that we could not carry on. That was the end."
Maqsudi acknowledges suspending the credit cards. "Every time Gulnora and I would have an argument, her retaliation-I guess she learned it from watching TV-she would put $20,000 to $30,000 in shopping charges on the credit cards."
As the fight escalated, he says, her bodyguards blocked him from leaving. "They had me cornered in a room and Gulnora was threatening, saying whatever she could at the time. She was throwing things around the room." He managed to bolt, spent the night at his mother's house and came home for a few hours the next morning to play with the children while Karimova slept. "That was the last time I saw the kids," he says. A few hours later, she telephoned from the airport as she and the children were leaving the country.
He says it was child abduction and a New Jersey court agrees. She denies it. "He knew perfectly that I was leaving with the kids," she says. He considered her note about "The War of the Roses" a threat. She says she only meant they should avoid the craziness that consumed the movie characters. "I wrote it with tears," she says. "It was a very personal letter."
Within days, Maqsudi's Afghan emigre family in Tashkent felt repercussions. A cousin and an uncle were arrested and thrown into prison. Maqsudi's businesses were raided, workers at his Coke plant harassed, the firms eventually confiscated. By October 2001, another uncle was behind bars. His parents were strip-searched at the airport.
Then one night in December, security forces raided three family houses and rounded up 24 relatives at gunpoint, including Maqsudi's 85-year-old grandmother, an Uzbek citizen. The relatives, nearly all women and children, were driven 13 hours to the Afghan border and dumped on the other side.
"They said, 'None of you will live in this country. This is our country,' " Maqsudi says.
Karimova denies any involvement and says that officials may have simply taken advantage of the moment because Maqsudi's family had long flouted passport requirements. "Most of his relatives-and there were a lot of them-did not have proper papers," she says. If it were her choice, she added, "I could have deported them later. I would have been much more sophisticated."
Both of the estranged spouses went to court. An Uzbek judge granted Karimova a divorce, while a New Jersey jurist granted one to Maqsudi. Maqsudi faces arrest if he sets foot in Uzbekistan and Karimova if she sets foot in the United States. Since both warrants are filed with Interpol, neither can safely travel to Europe. "A civilized divorce," Danny DeVito's character says in "The War of the Roses," "is a contradiction in terms." the larger relationship
In recent months, both sides in the Uzbek divorce war have enlisted lobbyists and lawmakers in Washington to hurl charges and deflect countercharges. Karimova's camp accuses Maqsudi's firms of import-export shenanigans and various illegal practices. The most sensational allegation is that Maqsudi family companies snipped oil from Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in charge.
One key witness for Karimova, however, was former Maqsudi employee Farhod Inogambaev, who has since fled Uzbekistan and recanted his statements. "Everything was lies," he says now in an interview from New Jersey.
After her separation from her husband, Karimova sent for him, Inogambaev says, and told him, "Forget about Mansur. Now let's do business together." Afraid for his family, he says, he went to work for her. She sent over men to have him swear out affidavits against her estranged husband. "I blindly signed, I blindly typed whatever they said. I just wanted them to leave me."
Not only does Inogambaev now disavow the charges, he also alleges that Karimova siphoned tens of millions of dollars out of Uzbekistan through various channels, including her own Citibank account. And he claims that she took over a tourism firm that arranges visas for Uzbek travelers and used it to control the flow of Uzbek prostitutes to Dubai.
Karimova dismisses the allegations, calling them "more than crazy and more than stupid," and contends that Inogambaev only "says that for money."
Maqsudi's Washington lobbyists, led by Richard A. Zimmer, a Republican former congressman from New Jersey, have gained some traction. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) raised the Interpol arrest warrant against Maqsudi during an October hearing, calling it "an abuse of power by the Uzbek president." In February, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to look into the prostitution allegations, saying, "We ought to be following it up very rigorously."
On the other side, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) has taken up Karimova's cause, requesting that Attorney General John Ashcroft investigate allegations made against Maqsudi in Uzbekistan.
Asked about the case in private, uncomfortable U.S. officials decline to say much. For the record, they call it "an international child abduction case" and say they have told Tashkent "that these issues are unnecessary irritants in the U.S.-Uzbek relationship," according to a written State Department response to congressional inquiries last year.
Uzbek officials appear no more eager to talk about it. "It's a very complicated issue, and I think we should be very sensitive in touching this very delicate issue," Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev said in an interview in Tashkent last fall. The two countries' relationship has burdens enough. The United States wants to keep the military base it opened in Uzbekistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet under increasing pressure from human rights groups, the Bush administration warned recently that it may cut off financial aid if Karimov's record does not improve.
It's possible the question may ultimately fall to his daughter. Analysts in Tashkent suspect that the 66-year-old president is ill and speculate that Karimova is positioning herself to succeed him. Others assume she is setting herself up in business with assets abroad in case the family has to flee.
Maqsudi believes that his ex-wife has the ambition to try to take over the country. "She's tasted power and what power can bring in Uzbekistan," he says. "At times I would say to her, when we would have arguments, 'You're drunk with your father's power.' They don't want to relinquish or give up the power they have."