Uzbekistan: Second Nordic Telecom Dogged by Gulnara-Linked Bribery Claims
Fresh allegations have emerged of bribery in Uzbekistan’s telecoms market involving another Nordic company and Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of President Islam Karimov.
A cellphone company partly owned by Norway’s Telenor is alleged to have paid some $25 million in kickbacks to acquire telecoms licenses in Uzbekistan, AFP reports, citing the Klassekampen daily.
The funds were reportedly transferred from Amsterdam-headquartered Vimpelcom, the operator of the Beeline brand in Uzbekistan, to the infamous Takilant Limited company, which is at the heart of two separate graft probes in Europe. Takilant is involved in a money-laundering probe in Switzerland (in which Karimova is a suspect), and also a bribery probe in Sweden involving another Nordic telecoms giant, TeliaSonera.
“Bank statements document how the money was transferred from a previously unknown company in the British Virgin Islands as Vimpelcom purchased licenses to the mobile market in the former Soviet state,” AFP quoted Klassekampen as saying.
Telenor responded that it has “zero tolerance for corruption, both when it comes to our own operations and also to the companies that we are part owners in.”
“We are a minority shareholder in Vimpelcom, so it’s up to Vimpelcom to take responsibility for answering any questions that relate to their operations,” Telenor communications head Glenn Mandelid told AFP.
Vimpelcom, which is 33 percent owned by Telenor, told EurasiaNet.org by email that there is nothing new in the information that has emerged.
“These recent reports actually do not provide any new information to what the company has already disclosed in its financial statements and to regulators,” it said. “The company continues to cooperate with the pending investigations, and it continues to focus its energies on improving its compliance program.”
The corruption allegations surrounding the other Nordic telecoms firm, TeliaSonera, center on payments of $330 million it made to Takilant Limited to purchase 3G licenses in Uzbekistan when it entered the market in 2007.
TeliaSonera, which is also under investigation in the United States and The Netherlands, has denied criminal wrongdoing but has admitted that “some transactions have not been in line with sound business practices.”
Takilant is owned by Karimova associate Gayane Avakyan, who was convicted on corruption charges in Uzbekistan in May, along with Rustam Madumarov (who is believed to be Karimova’s partner). Their current whereabouts are unknown.
Karimova herself is believed to be under house arrest in Tashkent, where prosecutors are probing her alleged involvement in a multi-million-dollar mafia-style corruption case. She denies wrongdoing and says the case against her is political.
Karimova’s downfall earlier this year followed a high-profile family feud in which she has accused her mother, Tatyana Karimova, and estranged younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, of turning the president against her. She has also charged that Rustam Inoyatov, the powerful head of the domestic intelligence service (the SNB), is undermining her in a bid to enhance his own political fortunes.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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