The head of Swedish-Finnish telecoms giant TeliaSonera, Lars Nyberg, has resigned after an auditor found the company was negligent when purchasing mobile licenses in graft-saturated Uzbekistan.
The 2007 deal was thrust into the spotlight in September, when Swedish journalists accused TeliaSonera of paying some 2.2 billion Kroner ($337 million) to a small, offshore company linked to President Islam Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova.
Mannheimer Swartling, which carried out the review for TeliaSonera, found no evidence of bribery or money laundering, but said “the suspicions of crime expressed in the media and by the Swedish Prosecution Authority cannot be dismissed by this investigation.”
Biörn Riese, a lawyer for Mannheimer Swartling, “notes that the transactions have been surrounded by so many remarkable circumstances that at least someone should have reacted to the lack of clarity regarding the local partner,” the firm said in a February 1 statement.
“If one carries out business in a corrupt country, one should quite simply be more thorough than TeliaSonera has been,” Riese said.
Last month documents surfaced showing TeliaSonera knew it was dealing with Karimova, who has been described in US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks as a “robber baron,” for the way she uses her father’s leverage to take over profitable businesses in Uzbekistan.
Nyberg, the TeliaSonera CEO, resigned February 1 after, he said, losing the backing of the company’s board of directors. TeliaSonera is almost 40 percent owned by the Swedish state.
“The criticism in the report is very serious and reflects the fact that we haven’t followed our own guidelines,” Bloomberg quoted TeliaSonera Board Chairman Anders Narvinger as saying at a press conference. It is “quite clear that the local partner should have been investigated more thoroughly.”
This is not the end of the story. In January a Swedish court froze up to 1.8 billion kronor ($286 million) of money from Takilant, the Gibraltar-registered company linked to Karimova. Prosecutors have until February 8 to decide whether to press charges.
And in Switzerland, several associates of Karimova – including Gayane Avakyan, head of Takilant – are being investigated for money laundering in another telecoms scandal that keeps inching closer to the president’s daughter. Karimova has not commented on any of the allegations.