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TeliaSonera denies charges of Uzbekistan bribery

- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

STOCKHOLM (AP) - The Nordic telecommunications company TeliaSonera on Tuesday refuted allegations that two of its employees engaged in bribery and money laundering while launching operations in Uzbekistan several years ago, despite fresh evidence from prosecutors.

In 2007, TeliaSonera signed a 2.3 billion kroner ($350 million) deal with an Uzbek firm, Takilant, to obtain a 3G operator's license in the Central Asian country. Last year, reports surfaced in Swedish media that the firm had ties to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan's authoritarian President Islam Karimov, and that a large bribe was paid to her to obtain the license.

Last week, Swedish prosecutors submitted documents to a court that suggest TeliaSonera might have paid a bribe to Karimova via the Gibraltar-based Takilant, an allegation that the Nordic company strenuously denies.

Karimova is known for her close ties to Uzbekistan's lucrative mobile phone industry. She was a former owner of Uzdunrobita, the Uzbek operator of MTS-Uzbekistan, a Russia-owned telecommunications company that came under fire from Uzbek authorities last year for alleged fraud and poor service.

In October a Swedish court froze millions of dollars of funds belonging to Takilant after prosecutors opened their bribery and money laundering probe.

"We are convinced that the ongoing investigations will clarify that we have not bribed anyone or participated in money laundering," TeliaSonera said Tuesday.

The company has some 9 million subscribers in Uzbekistan, a country routinely slammed for severe human rights abuses.

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