TeliaSonera Uzbekistan probe unearths Karimova connection

14 Jan 2013

An investigation into potential corruption and bribery regarding the entrance of TeliaSonera into the Uzbek market led by Swedish authorities has unearthed correspondence from the telco’s executives suggesting that the company had sought contact with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Karimov. Radio Free Europe quotes the missive – written by the head of TeliaSonera subsidiary Fintur, Serkan Elder – as warning against a meeting with the telecoms minister Akhmadully Aripov until the telco has ‘an understanding with Karimova’s team as to who will be our local partner and how we would like to manage this operator.’ Further communications mentioned a ‘potential meeting with the No. 1 daughter of Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, and her telecom colleagues’. Investigators launched a probe into TeliaSonera’s dealings in central Asia after a television documentary drew attention to the matter late last year, following the Uzbek state’s closure of MTS Uzbekistan, a Russian-backed cellco and rival of TeliaSonera’s local unit UCell. Reporters noted that negotiations regarding the Swedish group’s entry to the market were carried out with Bekhzod Akhmedov acting on behalf of Karimova, despite being the head of rival firm MTS Uzbekistan. Akhmedov has also been listed as a suspect in a money laundering case in Sweden and Switzerland relating to MTS Uzbekistan: Swiss authorities have reportedly frozen more than USD600 million in bank accounts held by Akhmedov in Geneva. After fleeing the country in the wake of MTS’s crisis in June 2012, which has so far seen four executives sentenced to 2.5 years of ‘corrective labour’ for tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering, Akhmedov has returned to Tashkent to face corruption charges.

TeliaSonera has denied any wrongdoing, and in a statement this week said that it is confident that the ongoing investigations would prove that the company has not participated in any bribery or money laundering. The company has also refused a suggestion from government ministers to temporarily suspend those managers implicated in the scandal.

Sweden, Uzbekistan, Telia Company, Ucell (Coscom), UMS (Mobiuz)