The chief executive of Swedish telecommunications company TeliaSonera has resigned following an independent review of business dealings with a partner in Uzbekistan.
In a statement on February 1, TeliaSonera CEO Lars Nyberg said the review found his company had failed to carry out proper background checks and conduct due diligence on its Uzbek partner, Takilant.
That company is believed to have links with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s president.
The review, carried out by law firm Mannheimer Swartling, rejected persistent allegations that TeliaSonera paid bribes in Uzbekistan.
In a press conference on February 1 in Stockholm, the outgoing chairman of the TeliaSonera board, Anders Narvinger, said “it is absolutely clear” that TeliaSonera should have looked more closely at its Uzbek partner.
“I was not active when these decisions were taken, but I understand that the focus was on the legal aspects. There were investigations into whether the partner was lawful and if they owned these assets,” Narvinger said.
“I think the serious aspect of the allegations is that there should have been better knowledge about the partner that [TeliaSonera] chose to start a company with in [Uzbekistan].”
Allegations of bribery and money-laundering at TeliaSonera emerged after a September 2012 investigative report by Sweden’s SVT television.
Takilant helped TeliaSonera enter the Uzbek market in 2007 after the two sides signed a $350 million deal that included the purchase of a 3G mobile-phone-network license in Uzbekistan.
TeliaSonera has always denied reports it has paid bribes in order to gain access to the Uzbek mobile-phone market.
Nyberg said he was relieved that the Mannheimer Swartling report had cleared the company of the bribery allegations.
Announcing his resignation, Nyberg said he was informed by the TeliaSonera board that there would be “significant changes to the composition of the board” after it received the report, and that he longer had the board’s support.
Nyberg had survived a vote of confidence by the board in October 2012, when the bribery allegations emerged in Swedish media.
‘Talk To Karimova’
The Swedish television report from December included interviews with two TeliaSonera executives who told of how a secret deal was struck between TeliaSonera and Karimova’s representative in 2007.
A criminal investigation is still under way in Sweden over the case.
“There are substantial suspicions, enough in this case, to believe that a crime has been committed,” Swedish anticorruption prosecutor Gunnar Stetler told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.
Documents revealed last month offer evidence that company executives actively sought direct contact with Gulnara Karimova.
She has been the subject of money-laundering investigations in Sweden and Switzerland.
Documents submitted in January by Swedish prosecutors include TeliaSonera correspondence from 2007, in which executives speak of initiating “several channels” to the ruling elite — including “a potential meeting with the No. 1 Daughter of Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, and her telecom colleagues soon.”
The e-mail, written by Serkan Elder, the head of TeliaSonera subsidiary Fintur Holdings, also warns against meeting with the Uzbek telecoms minister, Akhmadully Aripov, until “we have an understanding with Karimova’s team as to who will be our local partner and how we would like to manage this operator.”