Bribery Trial to Start Against Swedish Telecom Bosses

A mas­sive cor­rup­tion tri­al is to kick off on Tuesday, involv­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in alleged bribes, top exec­u­tives of Sweden’s largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­ny and the jet-set daugh­ter of the late pres­i­dent of Uzbekistan.

TeliaSonera’s head­quar­ters (CC 3.0) The pros­e­cu­tor claims that between 2007 and 2010, Telia Sonera — now called Telia Company — bribed President Islam Karimov’s pow­er­ful daugh­ter Gulnara Karimova with more than US$400 mil­lion in return for being allowed to oper­ate in Uzbekistan.

All tele­com com­pa­nies that want­ed to do busi­ness in Uzbekistan used the same method. They paid Karimova, or her off­shore com­pa­ny Takilant, for gov­ern­ment deci­sions and pro­tec­tion”, said pros­e­cu­tor Gunnar Stetler.

In total,  TeliaSonera, the Russian-Norwegian com­pa­ny Vimpelcom and the Russian oper­a­tor MTS — paid around $800 mil­lion, Stetler estimates.

The scan­dal broke in 2012, when Swedish Television’s (SVT) inves­tiga­tive flag­ship Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) togeth­er with OCCRP report­ed on TeliaSonera’s sus­pi­cious deals. More rev­e­la­tions fol­lowed from SVT, OCCRP and anoth­er Swedish media part­ner, TT News Agency.

The media reports trig­gered the Swedish crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion, which took six years to com­plete. CEO Lars Nyberg and oth­er top exec­u­tives, as well as the board of direc­tors, were replaced the fol­low­ing year.

Meanwhile, the US and Dutch author­i­ties reached a set­tle­ment with Telia Company. It was fined and forced to repay its Uzbek prof­its. The com­bined penal­ty amount­ed to $965 mil­lion. The com­pa­ny also admit­ted to break­ing US law.

The Swedish case before the Stockholm District Court will instead try the per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty of three for­mer exec­u­tives: Nyberg, for­mer head of busi­ness area Eurasia Tero Kivisaari, and a for­mer senior com­pa­ny lawyer. They all deny the charges of aggra­vat­ed bribery.

”These were nor­mal busi­ness prac­tices. The price was entire­ly mar­ket-ori­ent­ed. There was con­vinc­ing infor­ma­tion that every­thing was cor­rect and in accor­dance with the applic­a­ble leg­is­la­tion,” said defense lawyer Hans Strandberg who defends the senior com­pa­ny lawyer.

The defense tried to have the case dis­missed before tri­al. Even if the prosecutor’s ver­sion of events were cor­rect, accord­ing to Swedish law their actions do not con­sti­tute bribery because Karimova was not for­mal­ly in charge of grant­i­ng licens­es to tele­com com­pa­nies, the defense lawyers argue.

Even if she received the mon­ey and made sure that the com­pa­nies were giv­en the required licens­es, that should rather be con­sid­ered extor­tion or threat, Strandberg claims.

The pros­e­cu­tors, how­ev­er, argue that in harsh dic­ta­tor­ships such as the one in Uzbekistan, a per­son like Karimova had the actu­al author­i­ty. Also, what the com­pa­ny paid for were gov­ern­ment deci­sions. In addi­tion, she was deputy for­eign min­is­ter, and hence a gov­ern­ment official.

Bribery Trial to Start Against Swedish Telecom Bosses

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