US prosecutors approached their European counterparts to seize assets worth about $1 billion as part of an investigation into alleged corruption by three operators in Uzbekistan, said The Wall Street Journal.
In addition to VimpelCom, MTS and TeliaSonera, the long-running investigation also involves intermediaries close to the daughter of the country’s president, Gulnara Karimova.
The $1 billion figure gives an indication of the sums involved: the Department of Justice (DoJ) and SEC claims substantial bribes were paid by the operators to businesses controlled by Karimova in return for radio frequencies and other benefits.
However, no individual or company has been charged to date as a result of US or European inquiries. All three operators disclosed last year they were under investigation by the US investigators in connection with their operations in Uzbekistan.
All three also declined to comment, beyond saying they were co-operating with authorities both in the US and Europe. Karimova was unavailable for comment.
An issue in such cases is often jurisdiction. US agencies have broadened their reach in recent years. It’s not just US companies working abroad which can fall under their remit but also foreign companies and individuals. Or, in the case of the DoJ, US-based assets that are the result of corrupt behaviour in overseas markets.
In the current scenario, VimpelCom and MTS are both traded as securities in the US. While TeliaSonera delisted its US securities about ten years ago, it could fall under US investigation if any of its dealings passed through the US financial system.