Swedish firm TeliaSonera’s operations in Uzbekistan have attracted the attention of the US Department of Justice, which has asked the operator to supply documents related to transactions in Uzbekistan as part of an ongoing investigation.
TeliaSonera announced earlier this month that a “preliminary investigation concerning bribery and money laundering” concerning two of its Dutch holding companies was being conducted by the Dutch authorities. These two firms own stakes in TeliaSonera’s Uzbekistan operations and have been requested to provide between €10 million and €20 million of collateral to cover any claims decided against them.
The Swedish operator acquired its 3G licence in Uzbekistan from Takilant in 2007. Last year, Swedish authorities began investigating whether TeliaSonera was aware – or should have been aware – that the money from this transaction went directly to President Islam Karimov’s family.
Peter Borsos, head of group communications at TeliaSonera, said “TeliaSonera cooperates fully with all the authorities, as we are doing with the Swedish prosecutor, in order to gain full clarity on these issues”.
The operator added that it has begun its own investigation into the Uzbekistan transactions; last year it commissioned international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to conduct “a thorough review of recent transactions regarding contracts and partners in other parts of TeliaSonera’s Eurasian operations”.
Lars Nyberg, TeliaSonera’s former CEO, last year resigned following an investigation by law firm Mannheimer Swartling into the operator’s Uzbekistan investments. The report criticised Nyberg for failing to take due precautions when acquiring the mobile licence. Despite this, TeliaSonera has always maintained that it has not done anything illegal.
TeliaSonera is not the only firm to have its Uzbekistan operations investigated. Russian giant VimpelCom is under scrutiny from US and Dutch authorities that the operator confirmed “appear to be concerned with the company’s operations in Uzbekistan”, with officials visiting the firm’s Amsterdam headquarters and confirming that it is the “focus of a criminal investigation”.