VimpleCom to allocate $900 million for Uzbek bribery probe

Dutch-headquartered telecom company VimpleCom said in a press release that it will set aside $900 million to cooperate with a US and Dutch-lead probe into allegations of bribes paid to Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s daughter. The money was purportedly used to secure wireless licenses in Uzbekistan for VimpleCom’s Russian branch. US authorities have reported that Russian mobile operator MTS and Nordic network TeliaSonera are also under investigation.

Russian analysts did not see a basis for such a large sum to be allocated for the investigation. The US Department of Justice was granted permission by a District Court judge in July to seize $300 billion in assets and funds it claimed were tied to an international money-laundering scheme. Officials asserted that VimpleCom Ltd., owned in part by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman and a Norwegian telecom company Telenor, transferred money to a relative of Karimov through a chain of shell companies owned by the official. In 2006, Fridman faced allegations of fraud in US federal court while attempting to control Russia’s telecommunications market, and in 2012 revealed plans to invest up to $16 billion in global telecommunications business.

Last week, Norway’s government forced the resignation of Svein Asser, chairman of Norway telecom company Telenor, holder of 33% of VimpleCom’s stocks. The Norwegian government itself holds a 54% stake in Telenor, and cited the ongoing investigation of VimpleCom as one of the reasons for Asser’s removal. VimpleCom, a company with market value of $6.4 billion, saw its shares decline 12% this year in New York, while Telenor shares fell 1.3% in Oslo at the start of the week.

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