Monthly Archives: April 2014

TEO sets out position on freedom of expression

TeliaSonera and its Lithuanian subsidiary TEO have adopted a group policy on freedom of expression in telecommunications.

Under it, the two companies say they will “whenever possible, report on our efforts in relation to such as blocking or restricting access to specific services or content”.

The companies cite two separate occasions in March and April this year when the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (LRTC) ordered all Lithuanian TV providers to block programmes from Russia’s NTV Mir and RTR Planeta. They are not of EU or EEA origin, which ratified the Councils’ of Europe Convention on TV without frontiers.

It adds that the LRTC assessed that one programme on each of the channels contained disinformation and inducement to hatred. The suspension, which has been sanctioned by court, is valid for three months and has been implemented by TEO despite it, together with 27 other providers, appealing the NTV Mir decision.

TEO argued that operators are not able to decide which programmes are of which origin, and operators cannot execute the court’s decision as to programmes. “It is our view that the Court should issue appropriate instructions on how to implement the decision in such circumstances”.
The court dismissed the appeal based on the argument that the decision cannot be appealed.

TEO and the other TV providers are appealing this decision, with the telco also appealing against the one regarding RTR Planeta.

www.broadbandtvnews.com

In Kazakhstan, What Did Embattled TeliaSonera Learn From Uzbekistan?

Following the admission by embattled Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera this week that its operations in Kazakhstan and four other countries had breached the company’s own ethical requirements and may have broken the law, the firm is bracing itself for a new round of scrutiny.
TeliaSonera’s dealings with the rich and powerful in Uzbekistan, where its payments of millions of dollars to an intermediary of Gulnara Karimova’s, the president’s daughter, have already put the company in the crosshairs of investigators in Sweden, The Netherlands and the United States. TeliaSonera is also linked to a money-laundering probe in Switzerland in which Karimova is a suspect.
Now questions are being asked about TeliaSonera’s dealings in neighboring Kazakhstan, where it owns the Kcell brand (with 14.1 million subscribers in a country with a population of 17 million). Kazakhstan’s media has previously noted some striking similarities between TeliaSonera’s modus operandi in the two countries—namely its dealings with business people well connected to the powers-that-be and with links to rival companies.
One lucrative deal likely to come under the microscope is TeliaSonera’s $170-million purchase of WiMAX frequencies in Kazakhstan in December 2012, after questions had already been raised about its operations in Uzbekistan. Business weekly Delovaya Nedelya described the agreement at the time as conducted “according to a similar scenario” to the deals in Uzbekistan.
TeliaSonera bought the frequencies from Midas Telecom, owned by prominent businesswoman Aigul Nuriyeva. Nuriyeva also owns a stake in rival telecoms provider Tele2, described by Forbes Kazakhstan as “TeliaSonera’s main competitor on the domestic market.”
This calls to mind uncomfortable parallels with TeliaSonera’s activities in Uzbekistan, where the company has acknowledged dealing with two intermediaries of Karimova’s who had interests in rival telecoms companies: Bekhzod Akhmetov, then director of competitor O’zdunrobita (operated by Russia’s MTS, which was later forced out of Uzbekistan), and Gayane Avakyan, who had interests in rival firm Vimpelcom (operator of the Beeline brand), whose activities are now under investigation in the United States and Holland.
“Judging by the Uzbek deals, experts note that this is not the first time that [TeliaSonera] has had to deal with partners which are rivals,” Delovaya Nedelya commented about TeliaSonera’s Kazakhstan acquisition.
The agreement went through after the storm had already broken over TeliaSonera’s dealings in Uzbekistan, where it came under fire in fall 2012 over payments of some $330 million to an offshore company called Takilant Limited run by Avakyan. (TeliaSonera has acknowledged making those payments, but denied wrongdoing in the affair, which last year prompted the resignation of top management.)
Nuriyeva was ranked by Forbes Kazakhstan last year as the country’s 12th most-influential business person and its ninth wealthiest, with a fortune of $780 million made in the financial and telecoms sectors.
She also has business links to Prime Minister Karim Masimov. In 2008, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable, Masimov confirmed to the US ambassador information published in a Wall Street Journal article that he was “co-owner of a Singapore-based company together with a Kazakhstani banker named Aigul Nuriyeva who, according to the article, helps manage the Nazarbayev family finances.” (A spokesman for Nuriyeva denied to the Wall Street Journal that she played any role in managing the first family’s funds.)
“Masimov explained to the ambassador that his share in this company is not a secret, as the asset is listed on his financial disclosure forms,” the cable said.
TeliaSonera has not made specific reference to potential issues in Kazakhstan. Presenting the results of the external review into the firm’s activities in Nepal, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Georgia on April 2, TeliaSonera board chair Marie Ehrling said “several transactions, and actions during [2007-2013] have been conducted in a manner inconsistent with sound business practice and TeliaSonera’s ethical requirements.”
“It cannot even be ruled out that certain conduct has been in violation of the law,” she added.
Ehrling said full information about the review could not be made public, since “we are operating in many complicated legally geographical areas, and there is a risk that the company incurs lawsuits that may harm the company.”
www.eurasianet.org

Nyberg accused as TeliaSonera investigation gets underway

TeliaSonera has acknowledged that some of its activities in various countries may have been illegal.

The admission was prompted by the various investigations into its Uzbekistan operation by authorities in the Netherlands, Sweden and the US.

Marie Ehrling, chair of the operator’s board, stated that a review by legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright had found evidence of “problems” with TeliaSonera’s dealings in various markets, including Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Nepal and Tajikistan.

“The board can unfortunately say that several transactions and practices have not been handled in accordance with good business practice,” Ehrling said. “It cannot be excluded that certain actions have been criminal.”

The report tightens the screws for Lars Nyberg, the company’s CEO for the 2013 fiscal year. TeliaSonera’s annual general meeting concluded that Nyberg could well be accountable for the misconduct.

The Swedish state, which owns a 37% stake in the operator, concurred. State secretary Erik Thedeen noted: “We as owners today lack information to say whether Lars Nyberg in his role as CEO in January 2013 failed in his duties and thus can be held liable.”

However, the meeting found neither the board of directors during Nyberg’s tenure nor the previous CEOs Johan Dennelind and Per-Arne Blomquist to be liable of misconduct. Nyberg stepped down in February 2013 following an external review which deemed the operator’s 2007 purchase of its Uzbeki mobile licence to have been incautious.

While TeliaSonera has previously maintained that its actions were legal, Swedish prosecutors are currently trying to establish whether the operator knew or should have known that fee it paid for its Uzbeki licence went to the family of President Islam Karimov.

www.developingtelecoms.com

Kazakhstan Operations Under Scrutiny amid Fresh TeliaSonera Revelations

Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera is at the heart of several international corruption probes involving its activities in Uzbekistan. Now it says it may have broken the law in neighboring Kazakhstan and other countries, as well.
An external review of TeliaSonera’s dealings in five countries has found that “several transactions, and actions during [2007-2013] have been conducted in a manner inconsistent with sound business practice and TeliaSonera’s ethical requirements,” board chair Marie Ehrling told an Annual General Meeting on April 2.
“It cannot even be ruled out that certain conduct has been in violation of the law,” she said.
The review, commissioned last April and conducted by international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, covered Nepal, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Georgia but focused mainly on the first three countries.
Ehrling did not specify which transactions may have been unethical or illegal, but said the review mainly concerned the “establishing of operations and acquisitions of companies and licenses.”
Areas of concern included “substantial payments to advisors and intermediaries for, among other things, lobbying activities; lack of control of business partners; and inadequate handling of warning signs.”
“One area singled out is the inadequate governance of the Eurasian operations,” Ehrling said.
Risk assessment had been inadequate “from an ethical and legal perspective,” she added. TeliaSonera had failed to ensure “sufficient expertise and knowledge to act appropriately in the very difficult and complex business environment in Eurasia, where political risk is considered to be high and corruption is widespread,” and “the culture and leadership that characterized the operations in Eurasia were not aligned with TeliaSonera’s ethical requirements.”
Full information cannot be made public, Ehrling added, since “we are operating in many complicated legally geographical areas, and there is a risk that the company incurs lawsuits that may harm the company.”
“It’s our opinion that we are as transparent as possible with regards to the circumstances and also by continuously handing over information to the Swedish prosecutor,” she said, and it was up to the courts to assess the legality of any transactions.
TeliaSonera is already under investigation in Sweden, the United States, and The Netherlands over payments of millions of dollars it made to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market in 2007. Those investigations are linked to a money-laundering probe under way in Switzerland in which Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, is a suspect.
TeliaSonera has acknowledged making those payments but has denied wrongdoing in the affair, which last year prompted the resignation of CEO Lars Nyberg and the dismissal of four senior executives.
www.eurasianet.org

TeliaSonera says some Eurasia deals may have broken law

* Telia already under investigation over Uzbek 3G deal

* Previous allegations led CEO, board to quit (Adds Swedish government, former CEO comment)

(Reuters) – A scandal over TeliaSonera’s business dealings in Uzbekistan widened on Wednesday after the Swedish telecoms firm said it could not rule out that some of its actions in other Eurasian markets had broken the law.

In 2012, Swedish prosecutors launched an investigation into allegations of corruption related to Telia’s purchase of a 3G licence in Uzbekistan, with U.S. and Dutch authorities also carrying out their own probes.

Telia chairwoman Marie Ehrling said problems in other Eurasian markets had also been identified by a review conducted by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright on Telia’s behalf.

“The board can unfortunately say that several transactions and practices have not been handled in accordance with good business practice,” Ehrling said. “It can not be excluded that certain actions have been criminal.”

The probe focused on Kazakhstan, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Georgia.

Telia’s CEO and most of the board quit after an earlier internal investigation found it failed to conduct sufficient checks when buying a 3G licence in Uzbekistan in 2007.

New CEO Johan Dennelind, appointed in June last year to improve business practices, fired a further four top executives.

In a rare move, shareholders on Wednesday voted against discharging former CEO Lars Nyberg from personal liability for the past financial year, meaning the firm could later sue him personally.

The Swedish state, Telia’s biggest shareholder with around 37 percent of the stock, backed the majority view.

“We as owners today lack information to say whether Lars Nyberg in his role as CEO in January 2013 failed in his duties and thus can be held liable,” state secretary with responsibility for state-owned companies, Erik Thedeen, told the meeting.

Telia completed two acquisitions in Kazakhstan in 2013 while Nyberg was chief executive.

In a letter to shareholders published on the website of newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Nyberg said he believed the company’s deals in Kazakhstan were “clean”.

He said he believed TeliaSonera had made proper checks regarding who owned the assets that were purchased and who were the ultimate recipients of the money that was paid out. (Reporting by Olof Swahnberg and Sven Nordenstam, additional reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Mark Potter)

 

http://in.reuters.com