TeliaSonera implicated as investigations into Uzbeki operations deepen

European operator group TeliaSonera has revealed that two of its Dutch holding companies, TeliaSonera UTA Holding and TeliaSonera Uzbek Telecom Holding, are involved in a preliminary investigation concerning bribery and money laundering regarding operations in Uzbekistan.

The revelation comes as VimpelCom, which competes with TeliaSonera in Uzbekistan, faces a similar probe. One time competitor MTS exited the country last year.

“Authorities have carried out searches at companies during course of March 11th 2013 to get access to documents,” TeliaSonera said in a statement. “TeliaSonera is cooperating fully with the authorities. At this point TeliaSonera has no further details about the investigation.”

TeliaSonera’s troubles in Uzbekistan have been well documented. In February last year, the firm called on Swedish law firm Mannheimer Swartling to issue a report on the operator’s operations in Uzbekistan after attracting criticism over allegations of corruption involving its operations. While the law firm did not establish any evidence that bribery or money laundering had occurred, there remained suspicions of criminal activity among the Swedish Prosecution Authority that were not dismissed by the investigation. CEO Lars Nyberg left the firm as a consequence. The operator’s board then appointed law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to launch a review of its transactions in Eurasia and it appointed Johan Dennelind as president and CEO as of September 1, 2013.

VimpelCom, which is now TeliaSonera’s sole competitor in Uzbekistan, announced today that it has received a letter from the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stating that it is conducting an investigation into the firm’s operations.  Its group headquarters in Amsterdam were also visited by representatives of the Dutch authorities including the Dutch public prosecutor office, yesterday; the same day that authorities searched TeliaSonera’s premises.

VimpelCom told that it could not comment on the nature of the investigation but admitted that the investigations appear to be focus on its operations in Uzbekistan. Dutch authorities informed VimpelCom that it is the focus of a criminal investigation in the Netherlands.

Last year, Uzbeki authorities forced the shutdown of an unidentified mobile operator’s network in the country. MTS has since confirmed to that it is no longer operational in Uzbekistan. In June last year, MTS announced that it had become aware of an auction planned for July 1st 2013 of assets owned by its wholly owned subsidiary in Uzbekistan, Uzdunrobita.

“In the Company’s opinion, the claims of Uzbekistan authorities that resulted in the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings and the forthcoming auction sale of Uzdunrobita assets have no legal and factual basis,” the operator said at the time.

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