Sweden-based telecommunications company TeliaSonera said it received notice from Swedish prosecutors it could face fines and possible forfeiture related to an investigation of former employees under investigation in an alleged bribery and money laundering case in Uzbekistan.
“Due to the current preliminary investigation into suspicion of aggravated bribery, an investigation will be initiated with regard to possible corporate fines and possible forfeiture,” Public Prosecutor Gunnar Stetler told TeliaSonera, according to a release issued by the company on Thursday.
The notice doesn’t signal a new investigation against the company, and is a formal notice required by Swedish law, Hans Strandberg, an attorney at the Nordia law firm who is representing the company in this matter, told Corruption Currents.
“Nothing has changed. It’s not a criminal investigation against the company. It’s still against the individuals,” Strandberg said, adding Swedish law doesn’t permit prosecutions against companies, only people. A company can be fined if prosecutors find the company didn’t do enough to prevent or stop wrongdoing from taking place, or otherwise was found to be negligent, he said.
The company on Thursday again denied any wrongdoing. “As previously, TeliaSonera continues to dispute the allegations and is convinced that the continued legal procedures will confirm that the corruption allegations are unfounded,” it said.
The matter led to the resignation of TeliaSonera Chief Executive Lars Nyberg and a major reshuffling of the board of directors. Per-Arne Blomquist was named acting president and CEO in February.
TeliaSonera, in which the Swedish government owns a 37.7% stake, owns 94% of Uzbekistan telecom company Ucell. Prosecutors are investigating claims made last year by Swedish public broadcasting that TeliaSonera engaged in money laundering connected to the SEK2 billion Swedish ($314.6 million) acquisition in 2007 of an Uzbekistan wireless-data license, spectrum frequencies and number series from Gibraltar-based Takilant Ltd. The investigation later was expanded to look into additional company activities in Uzbekistan.
Prosecutors have alleged TeliaSonera knew one of the partners in the Takilant venture was Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. TeliaSonera has denied it was aware of any beneficiaries from the deal other than Takilant’s registered director, Gayane Avakyan. Takliant, which hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, doesn’t seem to have been contacted for comment.
The company hired the Mannheimer Swartling law firm to investigate the claims. The law firm’s report found no evidence of bribery or money laundering, but faulted TeliaSonera for not doing enough due diligence on its Uzbek partner in the venture, or how the local partner could hold the rights that were later transferred.
The prosecutor’s investigation, whch started in September, isn’t expected to be concluded until the end of this year at the earliest, Strandberg said.
Write to Ben DiPietro at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @BenDiPietro1.