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Three ex-Telia bosses charged with bribery in Uzbekistan probe

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Three ex-Telia bosses charged with bribery in Uzbekistan probe
Prosecutor Gunnar Stetler. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
13:26 CEST+02:00
Three former bosses of Telia have been charged in Sweden with serious bribery in connection with the telecom giant's controversial business activities in Uzbekistan.

Telia agreed on Thursday to pay fines of nearly $1 billion to settle a bribery case brought by US, Swedish and Dutch authorities over accusations of illicit payouts to Uzbek officials.

On Friday a Swedish prosecutor charged former CEO Lars Nyberg, the company's former deputy CEO and head of Eurasia Tero Kivisaari and a third, still unnamed, senior employee with serious bribery offences.

All three deny the charges.

The developments come a day after US attorney Joon Kim said in a statement that Stockholm-based Telia and its Uzbek subsidiary, Coscom LLC, had agreed to settle the case and had "admitted to paying, over many years, more than $331 million in bribes to an Uzbek government official".

In addition to the fines, the company "also agreed to implement rigorous internal controls and cooperate fully with the Department's ongoing investigation, including its investigation of individuals", the statement said.

Former Telia CEO Anders Igel and chairmen of the board Tom von Weyman and Anders Narvinger are not among those being prosecuted as they were not aware of the dodgy dealings, according to prosecutor Gunnar Stetler who outlined the charges at a press conference in Stockholm on Friday afternoon. 

"Vital information was kept from Telia's board of directors," he said.

"Nyberg had good opportunities to stop this and must have realized there was a situation of bribery," Stetler told newswire TT ahead of the press confererence.

Stetler said that legal proceedings in the Netherlands and US had established that bribes were indeed paid in Uzbekistan, but added: "Whether or not these people in question are guilty of bribery is a different question."

The suspect transactions were carried out when Telia attempted to break into the Uzbekistan market in 2007. Along with Russian-Norwegian Vimpelcom and Russian MTS, it allegedly paid bribes to the daughter or then-president Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, to be allowed to conduct business in the Central Asian country.

Mikael Damberg, Sweden's minister for enterprise and innovation, said the scandal had harmed Sweden's business image.

"That's why it is incredibly important that Telia now does the right thing, that they are transparent and that once all of this has been dealt with this becomes a fresh start for Telia and for the company's image," he told TT on Friday.

"I know that the current management and board have been working very hard to take responsibility for previous wrongdoings."

Telia's director of the board, Marie Ehrling, welcomed the prosecutor's decision to move the investigation forward.

"We have to remember that this started ten years ago. We have a different way of working today and have learned a lot on this journey. We have changed our company culture and management," she told TT.

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