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Uzbek Telecoms Bribery Case Opens in Sweden

Two telecoms have already paid big fines for handing out bribes worth some half-billion dollars to late Uzbek leader Karimov’s daughter.

4 September 2018

Three former top executives of one of Scandinavia’s largest telecoms companies, Telia, are defending themselves against charges of paying mind-boggling bribes to the daughter of late Uzbek leader Islam Karimov.

 

The trial of the former Telia executives was set to begin in a Stockholm courtroom today, OCCRP reports.

 

Last September, Telia, formerly TeliaSonera, agreed to pay fines of nearly $1 billion (866.5 million euros) to settle charges by the United States, the Netherlands, and Sweden that the company had paid more than $331 million in bribes to an unnamed Uzbek official between 2007 and 2010, The Local’s Swedish edition reported.

 

At the same time, the executives – former chief executive Lars Nyberg, former deputy CEO and head of its Eurasia division Tero Kivisaari, and a third, unnamed, former senior employee – were charged with bribery.

 

The defendants deny any wrongdoing.

 

OCCRP identifies the third defendant as a former senior company lawyer, and names the Uzbek official as Gulnara Karimova (pictured), Karimov’s high-flying celebrity daughter whose glamorous lifestyle came crashing down several years ago when she was accused of unspecified corruption and reportedly held under house arrest.

 

Karimova is being held in a prison outside Tashkent, her Swiss-based defense lawyer recently told RFE/RL.

 

Telia is not the only telecom that has admitted paying enormous bribes to get a foothold in Uzbekistan’s infant mobile phone market.

 

In 2016, VimpelCom (now VEON), partly controlled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, agreed to pay $795 million in fines sought by U.S. and Dutch authorities. U.S. authorities accused VimpelCom and its Uzbek subsidiary of paying more than $114 million between 2006 and 2012 for mobile phone licenses and frequencies to a relative of Karimov’s, assumed to be Gulnara.

 

"All telecom companies that wanted to do business in Uzbekistan used the same method. They paid Karimova, or her offshore company Takilant, for government decisions and protection," OCCRP quotes Swedish prosecutor Gunnar Stetler as saying.

 

 

  • Karimova also has legal problems in Switzerland, where authorities have frozen $700 million of assets belonging to her and her associates, Alisher Ilkhamov, former director of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation Uzbekistan, writes in openDemocracy.

 

  • Swiss authorities are on the verge of confiscating those assets and have decided in principle to return them to Uzbekistan, according to Ilkhamov.

 

  • Karimova’s Geneva-based attorney, Gregoire Mangeat, was allowed to meet her for the first time in over a year in April. He said she rejects the accusations of financial wrongdoing, but is willing to make some concessions in order to resolve her legal problems.

 

  • Swedish-Finnish Telia has been gradually sloughing off its Central Asian assets in a bid to clean up its reputation, The Diplomat wrote earlier this year.

 

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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