Another example is that of the eldest daughter of Islam Karimov, the president of gas-rich Uzbekistan from 1991 to his death in 2016, Gulnara Karimova. She was also frequently seen on social media, attending high-profile events and releasing new music videos. In 2016, she got $850 million of her assets taken away from her by the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Turned out she had pocketed $1 billion in telecom “deals”. And when she got charged for corruption, she flew to Dubai, on her Malta-based €50 million private jet.
Private jets also appear to be a tool of choice for grand corruption in the mining sector. In 2022, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK convicted Glencore, a major commodity trading and mining company, for using private jets to pay bribes to gain preferential access to oil in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Sudan. Disguising the bribes as ‘service fees’, ‘signing bonuses’ and ‘office expenses’, Glencore officials would withdraw money and fly it out in private jets. Glencore’s profits in 2022 were around $18 billion, a manifold increase from previous years. While kleptocrats get their share of it, the poor remain poor across the developing world.
Private jets and Autocracy Inc
The flight patterns of kleptocrats can also reveal insights into Autocracy Inc, the cluster of authoritarian actors sharing a desire to preserve and enhance their personal power and wealth through sophisticated networks of kleptocratic financial structures, security services and professional propagandists. As Anne Appelbaum writes in The Atlantic, “their links are cemented not by ideals but by deals—deals designed to take the edge off Western economic boycotts, or to make them personally rich—which is why they can operate across geographical and historical lines”. This type of malign exporting of kleptocratic behaviours across geographical lines might be linked to the Qatari’s private flights.
What do Qatar kleptocrats do when they fly to London? Nesrine Malik writes in the Guardian, that “Qatar and other wealthy undemocratic regimes around the world are empowered in Britain, and by extension on the global stage, by a parliamentary system open to lobbying, a lucrative weapons industry, and a real-estate economy that is geared to a global wealthy elite.” And “In the runup to the World Cup, the value of Qatar’s gifts to British MPs was greater than the amount spent by all the other 15 countries whose governments made donations to British MPs *combined*.” George Eaton tweets a list of UK assets and landmarks owned by Qatar: Harrods, Sainsbury’s, Heathrow airport, The Shard, Barclays, One Hyde Park, Chelsea Barracks. In other words, they fly to London to invest their gas money and exert foreign influence.