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TELIASONERA CORRUPTION PROBE
TeliaSonera probe finds 'no evidence' of bribery

TeliaSonera probe finds 'no evidence' of bribery

Published: 01 Feb 2013 10:27 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Feb 2013 10:27 GMT+01:00

A law firm hired by TeliaSonera to investigate bribery allegations stemming from the Nordic telecom firm's business deals in Uzbekistan has found there is no evidence to support the claims.

Yet as the findings were made public on Friday, law firm Mannheimer Swartling also said it was not able to completely rule out the possibility that criminal acts had taken place.

"We think TeliaSonera disregarded its own guidelines in not questioning how their local partner got its operating rights," attorney Biörn Riese, who led the investigation, told reporters on Friday.

Riese looked into whether top-level employees of the Swedish-Finnish telecom giant had bribed their way onto the Uzbek market. Riese and TeliaSonera have said the inquiry has been completely free of any corporate pressure, reported the TT news agency.

Riese concluded that TeliaSonera had asked too few questions when it moved into the central Asian market.

”TeliaSonera has had very low ambitions in researching who their local Uzbek partner would be,” Riese sad.

”In Uzbekistan, the regime’s involvement cannot be ruled out and we think this should have lead to more discussions within TeliaSonera, but that discussion never took place."

Riese said they had reviewed more than 40,000 emails and interviewed about 35 people.

”This inquiry did not look at whether it’s appropriate to do busines in a dictatorship, but how to do that business,” Riese told reporters who were given copies of the 150-page long report.

”This type of inquiry is based on voluntary cooperation. We cannot, like the police and prosecutors, force anyone to talk to us.”

His team was not able to get in touch with former Uzbek telecom minister Abdullah Aripov, nor with Takilant representative Bekzod Ahmedov.

TeliaSonera board members were privy to the inquiry findings on Thursday evening, but the Swedish press was told they would have to wait until Friday.

Headlines across Sweden did little to sway the view that the findings could make or break the company’s top management.

Allegations about bribery surfaced in September 2012, when Sveriges Television's (SVT) investigative journalism programme Uppdrag Granskning claimed the part state-owned TeliaSonera had paid bribes in Uzbekistan.

In a separate criminal inquest, Swedish prosecutors now suspect that TeliaSonera paid bribes to the company Takilant, which has ties to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in order to set up operations in the country.

According to the SVT report, TeliaSonera allegedly paid a bribe worth 2.2 billion kronor ($337 million) to Takilant for 3G mobile telephone licences and frequencies in Uzbekistan, as well as a 26-percent stake in the Uzbek company Ucell.

Takilant is a Gibraltar-based, one-woman company run by 22-year-old Gayane Avakyan, who has close ties to Karimova.

Karimova herself indirectly contacted one of TeliaSonera’s subsidiaries in 2010, explaining she needed more money, a source told SVT.

TT/The Local/at

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