TeliaSonera, VimpelCom, MTS clarify Uzbekistan asset seizure report

TeliaSonera, VimpelCom and MTS hit back at reports of fresh attempts by U.S. authorities to seize assets worth around $1 billion (€901 million) as part of an investigation into allegations of bribery relating to their businesses in Uzbekistan.

All three operators told FierceWireless:Europe that there was nothing new in a report by the Wall Street Journal relating to probes being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The report stated that the U.S. authorities accused the operators of bribing Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov, to gain wireless operating licenses in the country. The U.S. investigations are running in parallel with similar probes by European authorities, the Journal noted.

While the three operators told FW:E that they continue to support the ongoing investigations by providing access to all documents and information requested, they rebuffed the suggestion that there is anything new in the call for assets to be seized, or that such a call relates to their businesses.

A TeliaSonera spokesperson said that there "are no new seizures or orders to freeze assets", adding that the investigations are "not related to TeliaSonera's assets, it is the same Takilant assets that already have been frozen for some time."

Takilant is one of the businesses associated with Gulnara Karimova that investigators allege was used to funnel bribes through.

A spokesman for VimpelCom gave a similar response to TeliaSonera, stating. "We are aware of the U.S. government's forfeiture action regarding funds in part related to Takilant.

"VimpelCom is not a defendant to the forfeiture action, and it does not relate to assets currently held by VimpelCom."

The spokesman added that the Netherlands-headquartered operator has previously disclosed in SEC filings that it had "prior dealings with Takilant related to our business in Uzbekistan."

An MTS spokesperson also emphasised that the "complaint is directed towards assets allegedly held by the unnamed Uzbek official, not towards MTS or any of its affiliates," adding that the requests "filed by the U.S. authorities will not in any way interfere with MTS' operations."

European authorities' probes into the allegations have been ongoing for several years, with the most high profile example being the seizure of VimpelCom documents by Dutch prosecutors in March 2014.

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal article

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