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TELIASONERA

TeliaSonera beats profit expectations

Swedish-Finnish telecommunications operator TeliaSonera, currently being eyed as a possible acquisition target by France Telecom, reported on Friday strong first-quarter results, beating analysts' expectations.

The company, which is in the midst of a restructuring process, posted a net profit of 4.99 billion kronor ($834 million) in the first quarter, up 8.9 percent, according to its earnings statement.

TeliaSonera also said its net sales rose by 7.4 percent to 24.40 billion kronor, easily beating expectations of 24.13 billion kronor, according to analysts polled by SME-Direkt.

For 2008, the Nordic operator said its outlook was unchanged and that it expected an operating margin similar to the 32.2 percent margin it posted in 2007, while its net profit would be “somewhat higher” than the 2007 number, excluding “positive one-off items.”

For all of last year, the group reported a net profit of 20.29 billion kronor.

TeliaSonera, which traditionally has focused on fixed telephony, is currently restructuring with large investments in IP and mobile telephony services, as well as a string of cost-cutting measures set to be carried out by the end of 2009.

The company hopes to reduce annual costs by around five billion kronor compared to its 2007 level.

The restructuring process, which includes some 2,900 job cuts across Sweden and Finland, is meanwhile expected to cost around four billion kronor.

TELIASONERA

‘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.