Nordic telco CEO strolls in aftermath of Uzbek spectrum doodah

Under the table doings with Presidente's daughter: Bad


Lars Nyberg resigned as CEO of TeliaSonera, the main telco of Sweden and Finland, following accusations that he and the board failed to properly investigate the Uzbekistani business with whom TeleSonera worked when expanding into that country.

Nordic lawyers Mannheimer Swartling carried out the investigation, at TeliaSonera's request, following a TV documentary which linked the acquisition of radio spectrum licences in Uzbekistan to illicit payments and the President's daughter. Four months of investigation has cleared TeliaSonera of anything illegal, but suggests the company should have been a good deal more careful.

Chief investigator Biörn Riese "cannot confirm that bribery or money laundering has occurred" apparently, but he does note 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 company was guilty, according to Riese, of being quick to ignore anomalies and eager to brush over details in its enthusiasm to get an Uzbek operation up and running:

"If one carries out business in a corrupt country, one should quite simply be more thorough than TeliaSonera has been," he concludes.

Back in 2007 TeliaSonera was keen to get its hands on some decent Uzbekistani radio spectrum as quickly as possible. To do that it worked with local partners, including Takilant and its subsidiary Teleson Mobile, from whom TeleSonera acquired the necessary radio frequencies: but what it failed to do was establish the provenance of those frequencies so as to ensure there has been no prior bribery or corruption.

Which is why the CEO had to go. Nyberg wasn't the CEO back in 2007, but that wasn't enough to get him off given what the investigators describe as "the uncritical attitude that has been maintained, despite the presence of continued unclear circumstances in connection with transactions in 2007".

Responding to the investigation the TeliaSonera board points out that expansion into Eurasia was supported by the shareholders, and that the investments had paid off rather well - or "contributed significantly to the Group's growth and profitability" as the company puts it. Apparently processes have also been improved since 2007, so there's almost no chance of anything similar happening again. Honestly.

None of this has any bearing on any possible criminal investigation of course. The Swedish Prosecution Authority might still decide that it's worth putting a few execs into the dock as bribery and money laundering are against the law, but with the company accepting the charge of incompetence that's pretty unlikely to happen. ®


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