Monthly Archives: April 2015

Dutch officials probe Uzbekistan telecom bribery: focus on TeliaSonera, VimpelCom

Dutch justice ministry officials suspect two international telecom companies based in the Netherlands of bribing the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, the NRC reports on Friday. Swedish Finnish firm TeliaSonera and Russian group VimpelCom are said to have paid $220m (€248m) via a letterbox company owned by Gulnara Karimova in return for gsm frequencies and licences in Uzbekistan, the paper says. The information comes from a request for legal help made by Dutch public prosecutors to Sweden last year. The document, which is in the hands of the paper, shows the potential bribe was made via a ‘trust account operated by notary firm Houthoff’. ING and Orangefield Trust were also involved in the transaction, the paper says. Switzerland and Sweden began a criminal investigation into bribery claims three years ago. Last March, TeliaSonera and VimpelCom’s Dutch holding companies, which run the Uzbekistan operations, were raided by justice officials. A second criminal investigation involving the two companies focuses on the earnings they are said to have generated after winning the gsm concessions. That figure is put at around €400m, the NRC says. The investigation, which involves 10 other countries including the US, is being coordinated via Eurojust in The Hague. The two companies and Houthoff have declined to comment on the claims and ING says it complies with ‘strict procedures’. Orangefield says it is not a subject in the ongoing investigation.

Thousands lose global TV channels in Telia row

Up to 700,000 households that subscribe to Nordic telecoms giant Telia’s television packages have seen several channels – including Eurosport – disappear due to a dispute with broadcaster SBS.

International English-language networks The Discovery Channel, Eurosport, Eurosport 2 and entertainment channel TLC are no longer available to Telia customers, while other services popular with Swedes including Kanal5, Kanal9 and Kanal11 have also been taken away.

The move affects viewers hoping to watch the next round of European Championship qualifiers at home in June, as well as fans of popular Swedish TV shows including Filip och Fredrik and Berg och Meltzer and entertainment shows such as Grand Designs.

According to Telia, the channels are no longer showing up for customers due to a row between the firm and European broadcaster SBS, which sells channel packages to Telia.

Telia says that it cannot accept the latest channel deal being offered by SBS.

“We want to offer you the best television variety at a good price. The content must be broad and flexible…Right now one of our suppliers is not able to deliver this,” the company said on its website.

On Wednesday social media sites in Sweden were packed with comments from angry customers demanding their money back for subscription services which they had paid in advance for.

“If you don’t fix TLC on my TV, I will become really angry,” tweeted one woman who calls herself ‘Ensam Mamma’ (single mum).

Another posted: “Sad, but today I am cancelling my subscription to Telia because Kanal9 is disappearing from their service and therefore also Grand Designs.”

US Asks Sweden to Freeze $30M Linked to Uzbek Corruption Case

U.S. officials have asked Sweden to freeze $30 million in funds held by a Stockholm-based bank, as part of a sweeping multinational corruption investigation centered on the daughter of Uzbekistan’s president, according to documents obtained by VOA.

The March 20 request by the U.S. Department of Justice focuses on a shadowy company called Takilant Limited, which has been linked by European investigators to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Karimova, who is under house arrest in Uzbekistan in what may be a connected corruption probe, was a glamorous fashion designer and former United Nations ambassador who owned television and radio stations and exclusive nightclubs.

As a socialite, she recorded syrupy pop tunes and filmed videos with French film star Gerard Depardieu. On Twitter, she called herself “poet, mezzo soprano, designer and exotic Uzbekistan beauty.”

Investigations underway in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, France and the Netherlands focus on shell companies allegedly used by several multinational telecommunications companies to pay bribes and gain access to the lucrative Uzbek mobile phone market.

Two of the companies—VimpelCom and MTS—are the largest cell companies in Russia. Another company—TeliaSonera—is a Scandinavian cell company.

All three companies, whose shares trade on U.S. stock exchanges, have publicly disclosed the investigations by U.S. authorities in Securities and Exchange Commission filings. TeliaSonera has been under investigation by Swedish prosecutors for more than a year.

According to the Justice Department request obtained by VOA, investigators asked Sweden to freeze $30.4 million held in an account in Nordea Bank, a major Scandinavian bank based in Stockholm.

“The U.S. investigation has revealed that Vimpelcom, MTS, and TeliaSonera paid bribes to Uzbek officials to obtain mobile telecommunications business in Uzbekistan and that funds involved in the scheme were laundered through shell companies and financial accounts around the world, including accounts held in Sweden, to conceal the true nature of these illegal payments,” the document obtained by VOA states.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment on the investigation.

Spokespeople for VimpelCom and MTS also declined comment.

A message left with TeliaSonera’s investor relations department was not immediately returned.

The DOJ document states the Nordea Bank money belongs to Takilant . European investigators have said the company, based in Gibraltar, was run by a woman named Gayane Avakyan, who is a former aide to Gulnara Karimova.

Karimova has already been named as a suspect in a sweeping graft investigation brought by Uzbek prosecutors in September. She has been under house arrest there for several months.

The Prosecutor General’s office said at the time that the investigation stemmed from a probe into an organized crime group led by two men, including one who was known as a close associate and boyfriend of Karimova.

Karimova has denied the allegations.

A report published last month by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said Karimova may have used bribery, extortion, and influence-peddling to acquire some $1 billion worth of shares and payments from telecommunications companies.

The organization said documents it has obtained or viewed show “the scale of Karimova’s alleged corruption was far wider than has been reported.”

US Asks Sweden To Freeze Funds In Uzbek Bribery Probe

The United States has officially asked Swedish authorities to freeze more than $30 million in assets tied to investigations into possible bribery and money laundering involving Uzbek officials.

In a letter obtaned by RFE/RL from a Swedish investigative journalist, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote that U.S. investigations had revealed that the Russian-Norwegian company VimpelCom, Russian-owned MTS, and Swedish-Finnish company TeliaSonera had “paid bribes to Uzbek officials to obtain mobile telecommunications business in Uzbekistan.”

It said the investigations revealed that “funds involved in the scheme were laundered through shell companies around the world.”

As part of an ongoing bribery investigation involving TeliaSonera, Swedish authorities have frozen more than $30 million.

TeliaSonera is at the center of allegations that millions of dollars were paid to Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in exchange for access to the Central Asian nation’s telecoms market.​