Prosecutor seeks docs in TeliaSonera bribes case

Prosecutors are seeking to force Sveriges Television (SVT) to hand over documents believed to bear the handwriting of the Uzbek dictator's daughter Gulnara Karimova in connection with an ongoing bribery probe.

Prosecutor seeks docs in TeliaSonera bribes case

The demand is thought to indicate that Karimova may also be implicated in the alleged bribes scandal involving telecom firm TeliaSonera.

Prosecutor Berndt Berger has applied to the Stockholm district court for the hand over of the documents, which were made public by SVT’s Uppdrag Granskning programme in May.

“(It is of) great importance for the investigation for the original documents to be examined, partly with regard to fingerprints, and for writing sample analysis,” Berger’s application read, according to the TT news agency.

“We have significant reason to believe that the hand-writing, and any fingerprints, are from one of the persons who are subject to the investigation.”

It is widely reported that the person in question is Gulnara Karimova, the 40-year-old daughter of Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov.

The documents are said to discuss an agreement with TeliaSonera to sponsor events led by Karimova’s charitable organization Fund Forum, which has been criticized for financing her personal wealth and political ambitions.

TeliaSonera is alleged to have discussed receiving the protection of the Uzbek authorities, an agreement which the firm claims to have turned down.

“It is clear from the documents that Telia could consider paying two million US dollars instead of three per quarter. Offering money is itself a crime,” Berger said.

The document also refers to a forthcoming “high level meeting” in late August 2012. It is known that the former CEO Lars Nyberg visited the country on August 29th.

According to unconfirmed information to SVT and Fokus magazine, there were plans for a meeting then with Karimova that did not materialize. The firm has stated that the pair did not meet.

SVT has declined to surrender the documents, citing press freedom. If the court however supports the prosecutor’s application then the broadcaster will be obliged to disclose the documents.

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.

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

At least three managers are currently under suspicion in the case.

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‘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.