Norway’s government summoned the chairman of Telenor ASA (TEL) to explain reports alleging that VimpelCom Ltd. (VIP:US) paid bribes to gain business in Uzbekistan.
Industry Minister Monica Maeland called Telenor Chairman Svein Aaser in for a meeting today to explain the payments, ministry spokesman Trond Viken said by phone. The government owns about 54 percent of Telenor, which in turn holds 33 percent of the Russian phone carrier.
A report last week by newspaper Klassekampen, which cited information from Swedish prosecutors, rekindled concerns over VimpelCom’s relationship with Takilant Ltd., a company that has also been the focus of a corruption probe at TeliaSonera AB. (TLSN)
In response to a request by Dutch authorities, Swedish prosecutors said in a Nov. 10 document that payments totaling $55 million in 2007 and 2011 from VimpelCom to Takilant are suspected to be “bribes” to Uzbek authorities that were “fully or partially transferred to a Swiss account.”
VimpelCom, whose Amsterdam headquarters were raided in March by Dutch prosecutors, said this recent report doesn’t “provide any new information” to what has been disclosed in financial statements and to regulators.
“The company continues to cooperate with the pending investigations, and it continues to focus its energies on improving its compliance program,” Artem Minaev, head of media relations, said in an e-mail today.
Telenor has “raised questions toward the company as a shareholder and in investor meetings” and “will continue to do so,” Meera Bhatia, a Telenor spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Takilant, a company with ties to President Islam Karimov, held a minority stake in VimpelCom’s business in Uzbekistan from 2007 to 2009. VimpelCom “worked with Takilant in the past” to buy frequency in Uzbekistan, the carrier said in an SEC filing last year. Takilant was in 2012 targeted by Swedish prosecutors in a probe into whether TeliaSonera knew, or should have known, that its license money went to Karimov’s family.
TeliaSonera Chief Executive Officer Lars Nyberg resigned last year after a law firm hired to investigate graft accusations said TeliaSonera should have been more careful when it bought its Uzbek phone license.