Monthly Archives: November 2013

TeliaSonera Executives Sacked After Ethics Probe

(RFE/RL) — Swedish-Finnish telecom operator TeliaSonera has dismissed its chief financial officer and three other senior executives amid an ongoing investigation into the transactions and agreements made over the past years by the company and partners in Eurasia.

TeliaSonera chairman Marie Ehrling said on November 29 that the four executives “no longer have the trust of the board.”

TeliaSonera told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that the decision is not connected to ongoing probes into the company’s business dealings with Uzbekistan.

In February, the firm’s chief executive resigned after an independent review found the 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.

Allegations of bribery and money-laundering at TeliaSonera emerged in 2012.

www.eurasiareview.com

TeliaSonera sacks four executives

Swedish-Finnish telecom operator TeliaSonera dismissed four top executives on Friday for possible links to an alleged corruption case during the group’s expansion in Uzbekistan.

The company has only revealed the name of one of the executives, chief financial officer Per-Arne Blomquist.

“The board’s conclusion is that some senior employees no longer have the trust of the board,” chairman Marie Ehrling said in a press release. “As a result they have been notified that their employment with TeliaSonera will be terminated and they will leave their positions effective immediately.”

Last February, TeliaSonera’s chief executive Lars Nyberg stepped down after receiving criticism for his handling of the affair and was replaced by Blomquist, who acted as interim CEO for five months.

Swedish prosecutors launched a corruption probe in September 2012 after a TV news programme claimed the company had paid an Uzbek company a bribe of 238 million euros to obtain a 3G licence in the country and a 26 per cent stake in mobile carrier Ucell.

TeliaSonera, which initially denied the payment was a bribe, seemed on Friday to have changed its approach based on the first conclusions by a law firm it hired to review the case.

“Together with the board I have come to the conclusion that the way some transactions in the past were managed does not live up to the high standards of business ethics and transparency that TeliaSonera wants to stand for,” chief executive Johan Dennelind said in the press release.

“The review is still on-going,” the company added.
www.thehimalayantimes.com

Lobbying in Brussels is big business

A tribute to Belgian pragmatism and opportunism, Brussels has become the host city for the most important of the European Union’s institutions. Operating physically in the Quartier européen, and metaphorically in what observers call the ‘Eurobubble’, the European Commission and the European Parliament have attracted an impressive community of lobbyists.

In the words of the Interest Groups & Advocacy journal, “although most developed political systems have substantial interactions with stakeholders for a variety of purposes, the EU is remarkable in a high of dependence upon organised interests to achieve its goals.” This commitment extends to the bankrolling of NGO lobbies which, without institutional funding, would have difficulty in functioning. The European Parliament, on the other hand, limits access to a maximum of 4,000 organisations.

Lobbies? Well, the word comes from the House of Commons in Westminster,

where in earlier times petitioners would gather in the lobby or main concourse of the so-called ‘Mother of Parliaments’ to petition their elected representatives. Today Westminster has been eclipsed by Washington as the prime and happy hunting ground of lobbyists, but Brussels is catching up fast.

The Brussels community now comprises various species of lobbyists, notably in-company specialists working for corporations like BP, E.ON, Rolls Royce and Thales, but also industry, trade and professional associations (including labour unions), non-governmental organisations and regional representations. Another important species is independent consultants who count in their ranks not only communications experts but also, increasingly, specialised law firms.

How many human heads are involved full-time in this, to many outsiders, questionable practice of lobbying? Well, observers talk in terms of 15,000 to 30,000 people, but this figure has been bandied about for so many years that nobody remembers what it was calculated on.

“If you take into account all the backroom men and women now working full-time on EU affairs,” says Christophe Leclercq, founder of the EurActiv policy media network, “I would put the figure at closer to 100,000, if one includes EU institutions and people working in the member states. Indeed, diplomats are the first lobbyists ever! These days the industry relies on a range of specialists, notably researchers and communicators. The work of the face-to-face lobbyist is now only one of a number of end-products, at a time when the industry is adopting new strategies and techniques.”

What are these new trends? “Well, more and more initiatives now take the form of ‘information’ events and seminars,” says Leclercq, “not necessarily linked to a direct lobbying effort but developed as the long-term background to a lobbying programme. Other background activities include what I call ‘upstream’ lobbying, namely the publication of position papers and the like. These are precursors or reactions to the European Commission’s ‘white papers’ and ‘green papers’.

“I also see an increasing use, as in other spheres, of the social media, from the development of personal profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook to, even more importantly, the use of Twitter and tweets.  Then there is a strategic trend towards moving the emphasis from the ‘platform’ of the EU institutions in Brussels to Member State level, where the lobbyist can appeal more directly to public opinion and, in some cases, trigger petitions.

“Finally,” adds Leclercq, “we also see the emergence of ‘front organisations’ which some players use in order to avoid ‘showing their hand’ too blatantly in public.”

How much money goes into the lobbying effort in and around the Brussels institutions? “It depends on how you define the expenditure,” says Leclercq, cautiously. But the Lobby Planet blog gives a partial answer: “Corporate lobbying in Brussels has long passed the one billion euro mark in annual turnover…”.

The European Commission’s Transparency Register (TR) goes part of the way towards revealing who is representing what, and with what resources: for legal reasons entries are voluntary, not mandatory. The Interest Groups & Advocacy journal estimates Transparency Register covers approximately three-quarters of business-related organisations and around 60% of NGOs, of which 15% could even so be incorrectly attributed. One-third of all TR entries claim to relate to national or regional activities, rather than European-level ones. In Leclercq’s opinion the Transparency Register goes further than similar initiatives in other government capitals and, relatively speaking, does a good job.

But, while waiting for someone to come up with a way of ensuring full transparency, there are a few initiatives with at least finger-pointing and even whistle-blowing potential. These include The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), self-described as “a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations…”, and the Lobby Planet blog.

hill.blogactiv.eu

Uzbekistan: New Woes For Gulnara

By Murat Sadykov

Already embroiled in a public family feud and facing an unprecedented attack on her business empire, fresh trouble is enveloping Gulnara Karimova. The once-omnipotent daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov is becoming entangled in an investigation into the alleged kidnapping of one of her employees almost a year ago.

From the outside, it’s easy to see Karimova’s troubles through the lens of a political succession struggle in Tashkent, in which a rival faction strives to weaken the president by taking down his daughter. But in the Uzbek capital, where cynicism seems to be the guiding principle of politics, some observers think Karimov may be engineering events, and that the public attacks against his daughter are being orchestrated to bolster his own political standing.

On November 7, Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor-General’s Office announced on its website that it had opened a criminal case into the kidnapping of a Karimova employee that allegedly occurred 11 months ago. Though Karimova is not specifically named in the investigation, relatives of the victim, identified as Nurmukhammad Sadykov, on November 6 asserted that Karimova’s staff was holding and torturing him. On Twitter, Karimova called the allegation “total crap” and said Sadykov (no relation to the author) was fine at home.

The probe – extraordinary because it potentially embroils a member of the powerful and protected ruling family, which routinely flouts the rule of law – provides additional evidence that the net is closing around Karimova. It follows the shuttering of her media empire, rumors of tax raids against her charity foundation, and the freezing of bank accounts allegedly belonging to her. Earlier this year, Karimova resigned as Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva after police in France searched several of her properties at the request of Swiss prosecutors investigating a money-laundering case. Karimova has also been named in a corruption investigation in Sweden over Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera’s purchase of the rights to operate in Uzbekistan.

Without her television and radio stations, Karimova has taken to Twitter, attacking the man she believes is behind her problems — Rustam Inoyatov, the powerful head of Uzbekistan’s domestic intelligence service, the SNB. On more than one occasion she has accused Inoyatov of attempting to grab power, and even suggested he is trying to kill her. In the process, Karimova, who previously welcomed speculation that she wished to be president, has appeared to retreat, tweeting on November 5 that she just wants to be an “artist, poet and photographer.”

Uzbekistan’s tightly controlled state media outlets have thus far ignored the scandals, suggesting that those in Karimov’s inner circle fear that recent events could do serious damage to the ruling clique’s reputation. As usual, many websites reporting critically on Uzbekistan, including EurasiaNet.org, are blocked inside the country.

But tech-savvy netizens in Uzbekistan who are able to circumvent restrictions on the flow of information are embracing a counter-intuitive notion. Many feel Karimov is posturing ahead of a presidential election expected in spring 2015, and is determined to move his problematic daughter out of the way and either run again or anoint a loyal successor.

According to a suspiciously detailed insider account that appeared on a website run by exiled Karimov opponent Muhammad Salih the scandal erupted when SNB boss Inoyatov presented Karimov with a damning dossier about Karimova last month. Author Usmon Khaknazarov said the file shocked the president, who knew nothing of her business interests at home, or the corruption investigations abroad. (Khaknazarov, described as a “political analyst,” was known for his authoritative reports about a decade ago. Few believe he is a real person.)

Many in Tashkent see the Khaknazarov report as an attempt to defend Karimov, perhaps released by the intelligence services. In it, the ruthless strongman is described as crying over his daughter’s transgressions after beating her.

“[Karimova’s] dad is trying to whitewash himself by showing off to people that he is punishing his own daughter for bad things, but this is all a pretense,” a Tashkent resident told EurasiaNet.org. “The president will score points from all the current events involving his daughter.” (All sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of violent reprisals.)

A businessman in the capital said he’s not convinced that Karimov knew nothing, suggesting the Khaknazarov report, which quoted extensively from private meetings between the president and his top advisors, is evidence of a “dirty game.”

“Now they are suppressing her businesses to show that not only ordinary people, but everyone is equal before the law,” the businessman told EurasiaNet.org.

Some think Karimova – described in a leaked US diplomatic cable as a “robber baron” and the “most hated person in the country” – is playing with them. “The scandal involving Guli is just a PR exercise for her and her products,” said a lawyer from a Tashkent suburb, referring to Karimova by the diminutive she uses as a designer, jeweler and perfumer.

Others point out that Karimova still enjoys rare special privileges when it comes to freedom of speech. She has publicly accused her sister and mother of “sorcery” and compared Karimov, 75, to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, tweeting on November 5; “Changes! … We want changes!!” She also alleged that the SNB had detained and beaten her former bodyguards. If she is in trouble, it would seem authorities would want to get her off Twitter, which is not blocked in Uzbekistan and is certainly causing embarrassment.

“As a member of the family she can compare Karimov to Stalin and call her mother a ‘witch’ without being punished for it,” a middle-aged woman from Tashkent said. “No one else could do this.”

For now, it is impossible to know whether Karimova has become too powerful for her father, or if the whole affair is a publicity stunt designed to benefit them by presenting just a regular family that also obeys the law.

Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specializing in Central Asian affairs.

www.eurasiareview.com

Amid Rumors Of Her Demise, A Question: Does Gulnara Matter?

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2013 was the year of the snake. But if there was a journalists’ zodiac, it was the Year of Gulnara.

From her Twitter rampages to a dubious duet with Gerard Depardieu, the past year has transformed Uzbekistan’s Gulnara Karimova from an occasional back-page curiosity to a full-time weird-news magnet — and a useful springboard for exploring more resonant questions about the country’s deplorable rights abuses under her father, President Islam Karimov.

With Karimova once tapped as a likely successor to her authoritarian father in 2015, any news about her — silly or serious — seemed potentially pertinent. But now, with her political star reportedly crashing back to Earth, some are asking: Did the Year of Gulnara serve a purpose, or was it merely tabloid fodder?

Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch, has provided some of the year’s best Gulnara-watching by Twitter-sparring with Karimova over her country’s record of prison torture, forced labor, and illegal detentions.

He says Karimova’s celebrity has proved useful in introducing many people to an isolated country that rarely makes headlines in the global press. But in terms of improving human rights? Not so much.

“Was it useful to have her out there and communicating and doing kind of weird things, like talking to activists on Twitter? Did it help us to highlight these issues? Maybe in part,” Stroehlein said. “But the fact is, none of that made any significant changes on the ground in Uzbekistan. It’s still an absolutely horrific state when it comes to human rights abuses. So it’s been a bit of a sideshow, unfortunately.”

Princess Or Pillager?

The 41-year-old Karimova’s range of activities has often made it difficult to gauge where she lies on the scale between pampered frivolity and steely ambition.

She appears to take earnest delight in her softer pursuits: pop music, fashion design, and yoga. But she also sits atop a massive fortune built on a ruthless accumulation of rival assets and corrupt dealings with foreign investors.

Gulnara Karimova: Losing Her Accessories. Hover over the black dots to see how Karimova’s world is changing.

Documents have shown Karimova, who sits at the center of Swiss, Swedish, and French money-laundering probes, appearing to demand bribes from the Swedish telecoms giant TeliaSonera in exchange for entry to the Uzbek market. The local TeliaSonera branch, UCell, continues to sponsor lavish pet projects like her Fund Forum charity and the annual Style.uz festival.

At the same time, Karimova has sought a degree of political legitimacy on the international stage. Even before rumors of her presidential ambitions began to swirl, she had served as her country’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

Young, polished, and well-traveled, Karimova once seemed ideally placed to address growing concerns about Uzbek atrocities such as the 2005 Andijon massacre and the use of children and students as unpaid labor in the annual cotton harvest, an issue that fueled a boycott of her designs during New York Fashion Week in 2012.

But Karimova has steadily rebuffed all opportunities to engage with the wider public on human-rights issues. Mutabar Tadjibaeva, an Uzbek rights worker who spent years in prison before fleeing to France, said she was unable to “even find an office” for Karimova’s Geneva staff, and was subjected to police questioning after approaching Karimova’s $20 million villa in the city’s posh Cologny neighborhood.

“There’s a fairy tale about a princess who thinks she can do anything she wants because she’s the daughter of the sultan. And that’s precisely the kind of woman Gulnara is,” Tadjibaeva says.

“She doesn’t behave like an Uzbek ambassador to the UN in Geneva,” she adds. “She doesn’t behave like a PhD who can talk about how many diplomas they have. No. She behaves like a common woman on the street who shouts and lays blame on others, no matter whether she’s right or wrong.”

Alone Again, Naturally

Karimova’s own family might agree. The past month has seen a spectacular unraveling of the Karimov clan, with Gulnara accusing her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, of practicing sorcery and using it to bewitch their mother, Tatiana. (Local press accounts claim Tatiana Karimova, goaded by Lola, helped ignite Gulnara’s recent troubles at home by informing Islam Karimov about their daughter’s myriad corruption and criminal complaints.)

Since then, Karimova has lost her bodyguards, seen her circle of allies arrested, and watched as her TV and radio channels went black. Several of her organizations, including the powerful Fund Forum, have reportedly been put under investigation, and at least one — the TerraGroup media holding company — has had its bank accounts frozen.

The assault on Karimova’s domestic assets has been so sudden and sweeping that it is widely seen as a direct order from the president himself — an astonishing rift in the father-daughter relationship that has prompted the still Twitter-armed Karimova to compare her father to Stalin, and herself to Stalin’s ill-fated sons.

This combination photo shows Gulnara (left) with her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.This combination photo shows Gulnara (left) with her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.

Alisher Ilkhamov, an Uzbek native, says no matter how many bridges Karimova burns, there is only one she needs to rebuild in order to regain her footing — the one leading to the president.

“She still probably has some kind of ambitions. And she probably hopes to somehow throw out all these negative issues and mend the relationship with her father,” says Ilkhamov, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African studies at the University of London.

“Because for her to survive — politically and even physically — is something that can be achieved only by regaining her political position in the country. Especially after Karimov, because it’s unclear what the source of her subsistence will be in the future.”

More To Come

Karimova’s reported demise has revived Uzbekistan’s succession drama, with at least three top officials — Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev, Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, and secret-police chief Rustam Inoyatov — believed to be vying for the top spot. Neither is it certain that the 75-year-old Karimov, despite poor health, is ready to give up his post during the country’s next elections in 2015.

Many believe that Karimova may be the only person who could offer her father, and the family overall, protection from criminal prosecution once Karimov gives up the post. (Some observers have speculated the current tiff may be mere political stagecraft meant to throw Karimov’s rivals off the scent, and that Gulnara is still her father’s top choice.)

The prospect of the presidency going to someone other than a Karimov has sparked both hopes of reforms and fears of chaos, but according to activist Tadjibaeva, one thing is certain: “No matter who comes in, the first order of business will be to take revenge on the Karimovs.”

In this way, activists suggest, Karimova may yet have a useful role to play: that of the victim.

Ann-Sofie Nyman of the Brussels-based International Partnership for Human Rights says there have been few positives to Gulnara’s well-publicized rise and fall. But if the “dictator’s daughter” herself falls prey to the criminal autocracy that once fed her success, it will be the ultimate lesson of how barbaric the Uzbek regime can be.

“In a way, it’s also a bit ironic that the fact that her media has been shut down. It shows that even people who are so high up, even members of the elite regime in Uzbekistan, can also become victims to these repressive policies,” Nyman says.

“Maybe that is also sort of symbolic of the situation in the country. No one is safe.”

http://www.rferl.org