ALMATY (Reuters) - Gulnara Karimova, elder daughter of late Uzbek ex-president Islam Karimov, is in custody following a 2015 conviction for extortion and embezzlement and is being investigated for more crimes, the Uzbek Prosecutor General's office said on Friday.

 

The announcement is the first official word on the fate of Karimova, 45, who disappeared from public view in 2014 after apparently falling out with her father, who ran the Central Asian nation with an iron fist for 27 years.

 

State prosecutors said in a statement they were seeking to freeze about $1.5 billion in assets held by Karimova, including in Switzerland, Sweden, Britain, France, Latvia, Ireland, Malta, Germany, Spain, Russia, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.

 

Karimova could not be contacted for comment. Her Swiss lawyer Gregoire Mangeat said he did not know where she was being held and had to cancel a visit to see her this month.

 

"It is of particular concern, given the worrying rumors circulating about the health status of Mrs Gulnara Karimova, that nobody, including her children, has been able to hear news since several months," Mangeat said in an emailed statement.

 

Mangeat said he had been in Uzbekistan in December 2016 but Karimova had not informed him then of any pending legal action.

He said that since he could not contact his client he was prevented from representing her in a way that would guarantee her a fair trial. He had made a request through the Swiss Attorney General's office for the investigation to be suspended.

"The methods and behavior adopted by the Republic of Uzbekistan thereby constitute a serious violation of the most fundamental human rights guarantees," he said.

Karimova was once seen as a powerful businesswoman and politician and a potential successor to her father.

Where she has been since disappearing in 2014 is unclear and the authorities have been tight-lipped about it even after Karimov's death from a stroke last September. Swiss prosecutors have investigated Karimova for money laundering since 2014.

ALLEGED EXTORTION, EMBEZZLEMENT

The Uzbek prosecutor's office said Karimova had been sentenced in 2015 to five years' probation -- a measure which may equal house arrest in Uzbek law -- for acquiring through extortion or embezzlement stakes in a number of companies, and for tax evasion. The statement was the first word on that conviction.

Karimova is also being investigated on charges of fraud, evading customs and foreign exchange regulations, and money laundering, and was in custody pending a trial.

The prosecutor's office declined to take questions orally or by email, insisting on receiving questions by post.

According to prosecutors, the assets they are seeking to have frozen include cash and property in Switzerland and London, villas at Chateau de Groussay and Saint Tropez in France, and an airplane in Malta.

Karimov's second daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is Uzbek ambassador to UNESCO, a position she has held since 2008.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty, Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Richard Balmforth)