VimpelCom to pay nearly $800M to settle Uzbek bribery probes

VimpelCom agreed to pay a total of $795 million (€717 million) in fines and towards disgorgements to settle investigations by U.S. and Dutch authorities into allegations the company bribed officials in Uzbekistan to gain 3G and 4G operating licences in the country.

In a statement issued late Thursday, VimpelCom announced it had agreed a deferred prosecution with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), a consent agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and a settlement agreement with the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, which is known as the Openbaar Ministerie (OM).

VimpelCom's Uzbek subsidiary Unitel also pleaded guilty to charges brought by the DoJ as part of the settlement, and VimpelCom further agreed to be observed by an independent compliance monitor moving forward.

Chief executive Jean-Yves Charlier said resolving the investigations had been a top priority for the company. "The wrongdoing, which we deeply regret, is unacceptable. We have taken, and will continue to take, strong measures to embed a culture of integrity across the group."

Charlier added that VimpelCom has initiated several changes including the appointment of a new CEO, CFO, "Group General Counsel, Chief Performance Officer and Group Chief Compliance Officer to drive the necessary change forward."

The OM explained in a statement emailed to FierceWireless:Europe that it will receive half of the total payment -- $397.5 million. The prosecutor's office said it accused VimpelCom of "the criminal offences of bribery of government officials and inaccurate books and records" covering the period between 2006, when the operator gained its Uzbek licence, and 2012.

VimpelCom's bribery "resulted in a dominant position in the telecommunication market in Uzbekistan and significant profits as a consequence," the prosecutor's office said.

However, VimpelCom's admission of wrongdoing does not spell the end of the story: the OM said it will continue to investigate "individuals and non-VimpelCom other legal entities" that it suspects "had a leading role in the corruption and should be prosecuted if their involvement can be proven legally and convincingly."

One of those individuals is a Dutch national who "was arrested in November and taken into custody," it stated.

Norway-based operator Telenor, which holds a 33 per cent stake in VimpelCom, stated that corruption "is unacceptable and it is very serious that VimpelCom now has admitted to violations of the U.S. Foreign Corruption Practices Act and relevant Dutch laws."

Telenor has "fully cooperated with investigating authorities as a witness," it added.

For more:
- see this VimpelCom announcement
- view the OM's statement
- read this Telenor release

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