The son of disappeared Ukbek princess Gulnara Karimova has spoken from London to deny that his mother is dead.
However, his statement raises more questions than it answers over her fate, after rumours circulated in the country that she had been poisoned.
Islam Karimov junior , 24, himself in exile in Britain, and posted on social media saying that he has been assured his mother is alive in Uzbek capital Tashkent.
The glamorous 44 year old – once the richest woman in the ex-USSR is the daughter of tyrant Islam Karimov, whose August death caused a succession crisis in Uzbekistan.
Gulnara Karimova (pictured) married an American businessman, Mansur Maqsudi, who ran a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Tashkent. She had two children with him, one of whom was named Islam, after her father
It was reported earlier this week by a leading opposition news website that she had died from ‘poisoning’.
The autocratic Uzbek regime, now led by ruthless ex-premier Shavkat Mirziyoyev – which treats Gulnara as a non-person – did not comment on the reports.
She has not been seen in public for almost three years, and Islam junior admitted that he was not able to contact his mother in the wake of his grandfather’s death aged 78.
In 2010 Der Spiegel magazine claimed Karimova’s personal wealth was an estimated £457m
Was there no end to her talents? Karimova (pictured) saw herself as a catwalk model, pop star, socialite, fashion designer, political scientist and foreign diplomat
Even now he appears not to have spoken directly to her.
‘The news of my mother’s Gulnara’s death spread around the world. For this reason, I decided to write you this letter,’ he said.
‘Mum did not immediately respond to my call.
‘I wanted to appeal to the Uzbek embassy in London, but then my sister (Iman, 18) called and dispelled all the rumours.
‘I want to assure the public that my mum and little sister are in Tashkent and feel good.’
Her father Islam Karimov (pictured, right with Putin in 1999) ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist from independence in 1991 until his death earlier this year
In recent weeks several Twitter accounts sprung up, claiming to be hers. On one of them Gulnara reportedly said she would contact Sir Alex Ferguson and persuade him to coach the Uzbekistan national football team
He denied separate reports from the despotic cotton kingdom that his mother had been locked away in a Soviet-style lunatic asylum.
‘Mum is not placed in a psychiatric hospital,’ he said.
But he made clear she was forbidden by the autocratic Tashkent regime from travelling outside the country, and he appears to have no direct access to talk to her.
She is assumed to be under house arrest.
‘All this time she has been with Iman in Tashkent,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, I cannot share with you more extensive information.’
The repressive regime has done nothing to reassure the world over the fate of a woman who at one time was believed to be her father’s chosen successor.
It has failed to show recent pictures of her.
In July 2014, Islam junior expressed fears for his mother’s life after she was shut away.
Opposition website Centre1.com claimed that Gulnara had died on November 5, with her grave bulldozed soon afterwards.
The site attributed its report to a source in the Uzbek National Security Service, SNB
But a human rights source claimed that Gulnara had been seen in Tashkent recently, dressed in black, and walking alone with no security guards.
Gulnara Karimova (pictured, centre) was described by cables published by Wikileaks as ‘the single most hated person’ in Uzbekistan before her sudden fall from grace
Harvard-educated Gulnara is a judo black belt who at the height of her nepotistic power was the wealthiest woman oligarch in the former USSR as well as a pop star, catwalk model, socialite, fashion designer, foreign diplomat, heir apparent, and, in her own words, an ‘exotic Uzbekistan beauty’.
Once the most powerful woman in central Asia, and with friends among the British royal family and across the West, Gulnara had previously seen herself as an heir or kingmaker, yet she was also mired in corruption scandals.
The US is seeking to return to Uzbekistan more than $600 million USD from a bribery scheme she allegedly ran in her heyday, amid American concerns over into whose pockets the cash will go in Tashkent.
Switzerland, too, has an ongoing money laundering probe over a £615 million trust fund of which she is believed to be the beneficial owner, according to reports.
Recent weeks have seen Twitter accounts suddenly become active purporting to be from Gulnara.
One message called for Sir Alex Ferguson to be made manager of the Uzbekistan national football team, but the messages are seen as fake.
Karimova (pictured, left) with former US President Bill Clinton at an AIDS charity fundraising dinner in Antibes, France in 2009
Karimova (pictured) was allowed to call herself Professor after being awarded a PhD in politcal science by a university in Tashkent in 2001 although her academic credentials were doubted
Former British ambassador to Tashken, Craig Murray, once described Gulnara as a beautiful but deadly James Bond villainess.
He said: ‘Gulnara Karimova is one hell of a package. Richer than Paris Hilton, undeniably smarter and arguably sexier – and I’ve met both.
‘Harvard MBA, owner of scores of businesses, martial arts black belt, fluent in four languages, professional jewellery designer, poet and performer of a number one hit pop single.’
‘Her muscle-bound boyfriend walks respectfully behind her, head bowed. If you look very closely, you can make out that she is not 21 but 35.’
Despite her illustrious titles, she was deeply unpopular among ordinary Uzbek people.
Karimova was banned from her own father’s funeral and now, the colossal fortune and assets her father amassed in power is expected to be redistributed to other ruling elites
A diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks claimed Uzbeks saw her as ‘a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way’.