TeliaSonera probe finds ‘no evidence’ of bribery

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.

TeliaSonera probe finds 'no evidence' of bribery

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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Sweden slips in global corruption rankings

Sweden has dropped from third to fourth in an annual ranking comparing the levels of perceived corruption around the world.

Sweden slips in global corruption rankings
How corrupt is Sweden? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Its Scandinavian neighbour Denmark shared first place with New Zealand in this year's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released by anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International on Wednesday and ranking how corrupted countries were seen to be in 2016.

Both Denmark and New Zealand were given a score of 90 on the 0 to 100 scale (highly corrupt to very clean), followed closely by Finland and Sweden, which scored 89 and 88 respectively.

While still in the top-five of 176 countries, Sweden found itself pushed down one notch from last year and the group's Sweden office warned that this was no time to be complacent.

“Sweden's good performance in the 2016 index does not mean that we are spared from corruption in the public sector,” Ulla Andrén, chairwoman of Transparency International Sweden, said in a statement.

“Over the past year we have unfortunately seen how core values have wavered considerably. Leading figures have turned out to lack an ethical compass and corrupt behaviour has damaged trust in various public institutions.”

READ ALSO: Why Denmark is world's least corrupt country

Major Swedish institutions were rocked by scandals last year, including claims of cronyism and cover-ups at the state auditor Riksrevisionen and tax agency Skatteverket. Some of the country's largest businesses, such as Telia and Ericsson, have also faced allegations of illicit payouts.

“We believe that everything colloquially referred to as cronyism is corruption,” Lotta Rydström, executive secretary of Transparency International Sweden, told The Local.

“Transparency International's definition of corruption is wider than just bribes: 'Corruption is abuse of entrusted power for personal gain', which includes nepotism, buddy contracts and so on.”

“I would probably also say that several bribe-related incidents in the business world have shown that Sweden is not as spared (from corruption) as many think,” she said.

Rydström warned that the corruption index does not cover local and regional councils, where much of the political decisions are made in Sweden. Municipalities and county councils make up around 70 percent of public administration in the country.

“A high rating does not mean that we can beat our chest and say we are still almost the best student in the classroom. Good can get better and there is plenty to work on. Public procurement, municipal auditing and whistleblower protection are some of the issues we are working on.”

As a whole, Transparency International said that no nation in the world – Sweden included – is doing enough to fight corruption.

“There are no drastic changes in Europe and Central Asia in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, with only a few exceptions. However, this does not mean that the region is immune from corruption. The stagnation does not indicate that the fight against corruption has improved, but quite the opposite,” it wrote in the report.