Telia bosses on trial for Mamma Mia bribery

Telia Sonera's chief executive and the former head of its Swedish operation have gone on trial in Stockholm for allegedly trying to bribe customers by inviting them to a performance of Abba musical Mamma Mia.

Prosecutors claim that the invitations to a special performance of the show were an inappropriate reward. Defence lawyers for Telia Sonera chief executive Anders Igel and the company’s former Sweden boss Maria Ehrling countered that the planned cost of the event was reasonable and that the law in the area was unclear.

All those invited to the event in the spring of 2005 were major Telia Sonera customers. The evening was also to have included presentations of new products and services from the company.

One of those invited was national police chief Stefan Strömberg, who informed the chief counsel at the National Police Board. He informed prosecutor Christer van der Kwast, who started an investigation. Telia Sonera then cancelled the evening.

Other intended guests had been Thomas Rolén, director general of the courts service and Anders L Johansson, then head of AMS, the Labour Market Board. The prosecutor is only considering whether the invitations were an inappropriate reward to officials in the public sector.

“It was an attractive invitation to a dinner and a musical, and the intention was to influence the guests, who in many cases were major customers of Telia Sonera,” said van der Kwast.

He admitted that the law was unclear.

“This prosecution is intended to find out where the line can be drawn on what is inappropriate,” he said.

The value of the invitation was between 1,100 kronor and 1,650 kronor per person, he said.

Ehrling, questioned by van der Kwast said the company considered that it had followed standard practice and that the costs of the event “stayed within reasonable frames and norms that we use at Telia Sonera.”

“This was a question of giving general information about our products and services together with a buffet and a theatrical performance.”

The trial will conclude on Tuesday. Ehrling and Igel would face fines if convicted.


‘Rotten’ business claims at Nordic TeliaSonera

Swedish-Finnish telecom operator TeliaSonera has been accused of “rotten” business dealings in Azerbaijan, following a separate bribery scandal in Uzbekistan.

'Rotten’ business claims at Nordic TeliaSonera
A TeliaSonera conference in Stockholm last year. Photo: TT

Folksam, which is one of the largest insurance companies in Sweden, has accused the firm of “systematic cheating”, after it emerged that TeliaSonera’s subsidiary in Azerbaijan had ties with the family of Ilham Aliyev, the Arab nation’s leader.

It has been claimed that the dictator’s daughters were shareholders of TeliaSonera's subsidiary Azertel, via a connected company based in Panama.

“It is distressing that in a large Swedish company…people thought that cheating would pay off in the long run,” Carina Lundberg Markow, one of Folksam’s managers told the TT news agency on Wednesday.

She criticized TeliaSonera for failing to act “in an honest and open way” when entering new markets.

“Instead, they choose to pay for success,” she added.

TeliaSonera is one of the biggest telecom operators in the Nordic and Baltic countries and also operates in several emerging markets in Eurasia including Russia and Turkey, as well as Spain. The Swedish state owns 37.3 percent of the company.

Swedish prosecutor Gunnar Stetler is already investigating claims of unethical business practices in Uzbekistan and told TT he had also been given new information concerning potential bribery in Azerbaijan.

The company has voluntarily cooperated with the investigation, handing over what Stetler describes as “extensive information” about “the terms and conditions in Eurasian countries”.

Stetler said he was unable to discuss how he had responded to the information. But calls are growing for TeliaSonera to release a public report about its business dealings.

“Now it is extremely important to create transparency,” said Lundberg Markow.

“This shows the importance of having a set of values when doing business in complex markets or countries,” she added.

TeliaSonera and Norwegian rival Telenor recently merged their operations in Denmark, while the telecoms giant last year purchased rival Tele2's Norwegian division for 5.1 kronor.