Uzbekistan: Four Fired from TeliaSonera amid Corruption Row
Four executives have been dismissed from Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera amid an ongoing corruption investigation in Sweden that has come uncomfortably close to Gulnara Karimova, the scandal-hit daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. “The Board’s conclusion is that some senior employees no longer have the trust of the Board,” Marie Ehrling, its chairwoman, said in a statement posted on TeliaSonera’s website on November 29. “Therefore they have been notified that their employment with TeliaSonera will be terminated and they will leave their position effective immediately.” The dismissals come amid repercussions from an ongoing corruption probe that Swedish police opened in September 2012 into claims that the Swedish-Finnish telecoms giant paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to enter Uzbekistan’s telecoms market. The probe forced the resignation of CEO Lars Nyberg in February, and now four more heads have rolled. The company did not name them all but said in a second statement on November 29 that Chief Financial Officer Per-Arne Blomquist would “leave his position effective immediately.” The Financial Times reported that Tero Kivisaari, the company’s former head of the Eurasia division, was another of the fired employees. The FT report quoted CEO Johan Dennelind as saying he no “longer had trust” in Kivisaari, who was removed as the company’s President of Business Area Mobility Services last month over his “role in TeliaSonera’s criticized investments in Uzbekistan,” the company said at the time. Now TeliaSonera says that it had hired law firm Norton Rose Fulbright “to conduct a thorough review of the transactions and agreements made over the past few years by TeliaSonera and partners in Eurasia.” The review is still continuing, but “on the basis of the information and conclusions to date it is evident to TeliaSonera’s Board and CEO that the processes for conducting some transactions have not been in line with sound business practices. As a consequence four individuals will now leave the company.”TeliaSonera has previously acknowledged paying $350 million for 3G licenses to operate in Uzbekistan to Takilant Limited, run out of the tax haven of Gibraltar by Gulnara Karimova associate Gayane Avakyan, who is also the subject of a money-laundering investigation in Switzerland. Radio Free Europe quoted TeliaSonera – which has always denied wrongdoing and says it has “zero tolerance” toward corruption – as saying that the decision to dismiss the four “is not connected to ongoing probes into the company's business dealings with Uzbekistan.” The move comes as Karimova is under unprecedented attack in Uzbekistan, where her media and business empires are being closed and subjected to criminal investigations and she is becoming entangled in an investigation into the alleged kidnapping of one of her former staff.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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