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Second Russian-backed cellco targeted by government inspections

17 Oct 2013

Uzbek tax authorities have launched an unscheduled audit of wireless operator Beeline, the local unit of Russian telecoms giant Vimpelcom, Russian news portal Kommersant writes. The investigation was reportedly prompted by information from an ‘external source’, and followed on the heels of a probe conducted by the State Inspectorate of Communications (GIS). As a result of its audit, GIS ordered the operator, which operates under the ‘Beeline’ brand, that 460 base stations built in 2013 could not be used because it had not received the proper authorisations from the regulator.

The probes are reminiscent of investigations carried out by authorities last year into Beeline’s Russian-backed rival MTS Uzbekistan which ultimately led to the controversial forced closure of that provider. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that authorities began to probe MTS’s operations in June 2012 on the grounds of poor quality of service, before levelling a torrent of accusations at the telco, from failing to acquire permissions for base stations to tax evasion and embezzlement. MTS had its licence suspended and then cancelled shortly afterwards, and declared bankruptcy in January 2013. The company’s Russian parent Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) maintained throughout that it was innocent of the allegations, and that it was the victim of a shakedown by the nation’s notoriously corrupt elite. Gulnora Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov and a former stakeholder in MTS Uzbekistan prior to its takeover by the Russian group, was believed to have orchestrated MTS’s demise.

Uzbekistan, Beeline (Unitel), UMS (Mobiuz)

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