TeliaSonera CEO widens misconduct probe

TeliaSonera's new CEO Marie Ehrling has ordered a thorough review of the state-owned telecom firm's dealings in all markets abroad, as a new board was elected after a year under tough scrutiny over bribery allegations in Uzbekistan.

TeliaSonera CEO widens misconduct probe

Ehrlin said she had ordered a review “country by country, transaction by transaction, and deal by deal”.

The company will bring in outside expertise to look at the material in a review that will be much greater in scale than the Uzbekistan inquiry performed by Swedish law firm Mannheimer Swartling, whose findings were presented in February.

The report prompted the resignation of then CEO Lars Nyberg and his board members. On Wednesday, the newly elected board members took over the reigns from an interim CEO, Per-Arne Blomquist. He said that the company had taken the Mannheimer Swartling critique on board.

“We shouldn’t have set up in Uzbekistan in the manner that we did,” he told the TT news agency.

Allegations of bribery and money laundering at TeliaSonera emerged following a September 2012 report by Sveriges Television (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning.

It claimed that TeliaSonera in 2007 paid a bribe worth 2.2 billion kronor ($337 million) to company Takilant for 3G mobile telephone licences and frequencies in Uzbekistan, as well as a 26-percent stake in the Uzbek company Ucell. Takilant has ties to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Shortly after the allegations came to light, then CEO Nyberg promised he would resign if the bribery allegations proved true. While the Mannheimer Swartling report in the end found no direct evidence that criminal acts had taken place, it proved enough to prompt Nyberg’s resignation.

At the annual meeting on Wednesday, Erik Thedén, undersecretery to Financial Markets Minister Peter Norman, welcomed new CEO Ehrling’s decision to go wider in the search for potential misconduct.

“TeliaSonera must get to the bottom of the accusations levelled at the company, and that requires bringing in outside experts, ” he told TT.

Thedén voted for immunity for the former board members, including the then CEO. The move caused the ire of Carl Rosén, CEO of the Swedish Shareholders’ Association (Aktiespararna). According to TT, Rosén voted against immunity at the meeting.

“The Swedish state is neither acting professionally nor coherently when it votes to free them of responsibility,” he wrote on the association website.

TT/The Local/at

Follow The Local on Twitter

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘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.