TeliaSonera facing US probe into Uzbekistan operation

European operator group TeliaSonera has confirmed that it is the subject of an investigation by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and has also been approached by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) relating to its operations in Uzbekistan.

Last week, TeliaSonera announced that two of its Dutch holding companies, TeliaSonera UTA Holding and TeliaSonera Uzbek Telecom Holding, were involved in a preliminary investigation from Dutch authorities concerning bribery and money laundering regarding operations in Uzbekistan.

The revelation came as it emerged that VimpelCom, which competes with TeliaSonera in Uzbekistan, faces a similar probe. VimpelCom said at the time that it is facing investigations from the Dutch prosecutor’s office as well as the US SEC. It said it is facing an investigation from US authorities because it is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

TeliaSonera, however, is listed in Helsinki and Stockholm. When asked why US authorities are investigating it, the Scandinavian operator declined to comment.

The operator did say, however, that with the investigation in the Netherlands, Dutch authorities have “requested collateral for any financial claims which may be decided against TeliaSonera UTA Holding BV”. According to the information it currently has, the request for collateral is between €10m and €20m, said TeliaSonera.

“The common denominator for our contacts with the authorities is that we are asked for information about TeliaSonera’s investments in Uzbekistan and documents related to these,” ,” said Peter Borsos, head of group communications at TeliaSonera.

“TeliaSonera cooperates fully with all the authorities, as we are doing with the Swedish prosecutor, in order to gain full clarity on these issues,” he added.

In February last year, TeliaSonera called on Swedish law firm Mannheimer Swartling to issue a report on the operator’s operations in Uzbekistan. The law firm did not establish any evidence that bribery or money laundering had occurred, but 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 and the operator’s board then appointed law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to launch a review of its transactions in Eurasia. It appointed Johan Dennelind as president and CEO as of September 1, 2013.

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