Corruptistan: MTS and VimpelCom telecommunication providers and the kick backs

A story about international companies being punished for bribes (it actually happens!)
03.10.2017
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Several Russian telecom companies became involved in an international corruption scandal. In order to settle on the Uzbek market, MTS and VimpelCom could have given bribes to the daughter of the country's former president – Gulnara Karimova. Sofia Savina reports on how the investigation into the case is going now.


UZBEK-STYLE BRIBES

The anti-corruption investigation into the bribes of the "Uzbek Princess" began in 2012. Then, the Justice Ministry and the US Securities and Exchange Commission suspected three telecom operators – Telia, MTS and VimpelCom – in illicit payoffs. According to investigators, they paid the daughter of the first president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, for the opportunity to enter the country's market.

The beginning of the investigation was provoked by a documentary on Swedish television: it was about criminal ties between the companies and Gulnara Karimova. The investigators took five years to confirm this.

The Swedish telecommunications holding Telia (formerly TeliaSonera) has pleaded guilty this year. On September 21, the US SEC terminated the case against the company: Telia will pay a $ 965 million fine to settle the claims.

Telia is the second-largest shareholder of the Russian Megafon. The US authorities accused the company of violating the law on combating corruption in foreign countries. It forbids companies to bribe officials in other countries for the sake of launching a business. The prosecutor's office also charged three top managers of Telia with the "malicious behavior". The former president of the company, Lars Nuberg, is among them.

Transparency International tells about corruption in Uzbekistan

According to the investigation, the Swedes obtained profitable conditions on the telecommunications market in Uzbekistan for the mobile operator Coscom from "Uzbek Princess" Gulnara Karimova. From 2007 to 2010, they transferred bribes amounting to $ 331 million to the accounts of the offshore company Takilant. It belonged to fashion designer Gayane Avakyan – a good friend of Gulnara Karimova. In exchange, Telia received a license to work in 3G networks in the country.

Earlier, in February 2016, the management of VimpelCom admitted that it bribed the president's daughter: from 2006 to 2012, the holding paid Karimova $ 114 million. The company agreed to pay a fine of $ 796 million. VimpelCom (now Veon) owns the Russian company VimpelCom, which, in turn, owns the trade mark Beeline.

Now, the US authorities continue to investigate corruption in Uzbekistan. Whether they make claims against MTS is still unknown. A year ago, MTS unexpectedly left Uzbekistan, selling 50% of its subsidiary company Universal Mobile Systems to local authorities for $ 1. The company then said that the sale took place "for a number of reasons."

WHAT’S UP WITH GULNARA KARIMOVA?

At the moment, Gulnara Karimova is serving a sentence for theft, extortion and tax evasion. The criminal case was initiated in 2013, and in 2015, the Tashkent court sentenced her to five years in prison. The investigation found that she controlled an organized criminal group that illegally seized assets in amount of $ 6.3 million in 12 years. In addition, the OCG was accused of embezzling state property worth $ 42.7 million and non-payment of taxes for more than $ 247 million.

The investigation into another case is continuing: this time, Karimova is accused of swindling during the "illegal sale of radio frequency resources and land" and "unreasonable collection" of commissions from subscribers of cellular operators.

The Uzbek authorities reported on the criminal prosecution of Karimova only this year – for two years they were silent about the verdict. However, in 2013, Gulnara stopped appearing in public. The special services forbade her to communicate with relatives and use the Internet. She was also not present at the funeral of her father in 2016.

Earlier, the relatives of the "Uzbek Princess" claimed that she was under house arrest, but now, the Uzbek Prosecutor General's Office does not specify where Karimova is serving the sentence.

“THE UZBEK PRINCESS”

Gulnara Karimova is the eldest daughter of the late Islam Karimov, the first president of Uzbekistan. She worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, represented the country in Swiss international organizations for several years, was an Ambassador to Spain and an envoy of the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Moscow.

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Gulnara Karimova. Photo: news.rufox.ru

She is also known as a fashion designer and singer. Since 2005, her brand Guli has been producing clothes, perfumes and jewelry. In 2012, under the pseudonym of Gugush, the daughter of the president released a music album in the US. For a long time, the media called Gulnara Karimova a successor to her father, but this never happened.

In Russia, Karimova has a bank account worth $ 6 million, a penthouse in the center of Moscow, a mansion on Rublevka, eight apartments and a hotel complex in Yalta. In August this year, the Uzbek Prosecutor General's Office asked the Russian authorities to arrest this property. The Uzbek prosecutor's office also found $ 1.3 billion in foreign bank accounts. Most of them are in Switzerland.

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