The US Department of Justice told Stockholm-headquartered TeliaSonera – which is listed on Nasdaq OMX Stockholm and Nasdaq OMX Helsinki stock exchanges – that it’s the subject of an on-going investigation related to transactions in Uzbekistan. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also asked TeliaSonera to hand over documents and information related to Uzbekistan.
The involvement of US authorities follows a 12 March announcement by TeliaSonera that two of its Dutch holding companies – TeliaSonera UTA Holding and TeliaSonera Uzbek Holding – were subject to a “preliminary investigation concerning bribery and money laundering” by Dutch authorities.
The two companies have holdings for TeliaSonera’s operations in Uzbekistan and the Dutch authorities have requested between €10 million and €20 million worth of collateral for any future claims that may be decided against them.
The investigation on both sides of the Atlantic traces back to TeliaSonera’ purchase of a 3G licence in Uzbekistan in 2007.
Last year, Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into whether TeliaSonera knew, or should have known, when it bought the licence from Takilant, that the money went to President Islam Karimov’s family.
Peter Borsos, the operator’s head of group communications, said “TeliaSonera cooperates fully with all the authorities, as we are doing with the Swedish prosecutor, in order to gain full clarity on these issues”.
The operator is at pains to stress that it has taken action of its own to throw light on its handling of affairs in Uzbekistan.
Last year it brought in international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to conduct “a thorough review of recent transactions regarding contracts and partners in other parts of TeliaSonera’s Eurasian operations”.
Law firm Mannheimer Swartling also conducted an investigation specifically regarding investment in Uzbekistan, which was presented last year. It led to the resignation of Lars Nyberg, TeliaSonera’s CEO, after the report criticised the company for not being more careful when it bought the Uzbeki mobile licence
TeliaSonera, 40 percent owned by Sweden’s government, has always maintained that it has not broken any laws.
The increase in scrutiny on TeliaSonera follows news last week that Nasdaq-listed VimpelCom is also being investigated by US and Dutch authorities in connection with its operations in Uzbekistan.
Moreover, the operator group’s head office in Amsterdam was visited by Dutch authorities — including a representative from the public prosecutor office. The officials obtained documents and informed VimpelCom that it is “the focus of a criminal investigation”.
VimpelCom said the investigations “appear to be concerned with the company’s operations in Uzbekistan” and that it fully intends to cooperate on the matter.