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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- Ukrainian officials arrested opposition politician Hennadiy Korban in raids on October 31, and he remains in custody after being released and again imprisoned on November 3. Authorities claimed Korban’s involvement in organized crime, embezzlement and kidnapping. Korban leads the anti-Poroshenko UKROP party and is closely affiliated with Ihor Kolomoyskiy, one of Ukraine’s most powerful oligarchs with business interests in the media, banking and energy sectors. Korban’s arrest caused speculation among observers as to whether Poroshenko’s government may have begun cracking down on rival factions backed by locally powerful oligarchs Local elections were canceled on allegations of incorrectly printed ballots on the part of an oligarch on October 25 in the provincial capital of Mariupol in the strategically important area of southeastern Ukraine between rebel-held Luhansk and Donetsk republics and Crimea.
- Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev arrived in London, England to meet with English government and business officials. Kazakhstani media reported that Nazarbayev facilitated the conclusion of $5 billion in contracts between Kazakhstani and English business circles during a meeting with directors of large English pharmaceutical, geological survey, gas and oil companies. British Petroleum has maintained a presence in the Caspian Sea region after selling its stake in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz Oil Field and the Caspian Pipe to Russia in 2013. Nazarbayev’s visit comes a day after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Astana, Kazakhstan.
- On a visit to Tokyo, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi reported that Iran has begun shutting down centrifuges used to enrich uranium as part of its fulfillment of the nuclear deal reached in July. This is the first sign of progress on the Iranian side since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei signed a decree ordering centrifuge dismantlement earlier this month. RFERL reported that approximately 20 hard-line conservatives appealed to Khamenei that the dismantling was happening too quickly. Shutting down uranium-enriching centrifuges is one of the stipulations of the nuclear deal in return for the lifting of sanctions enforced by Western countries against Iran.
- The Russian foreign ministry stated in a press release that it is not committed to keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power on principle, in apparent contrast to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps head’s suggestion that Iran may hold a greater commitment to Assad. A senior regional official quoted by Reuters dismissed any Russian-Iranian split on the issue of legitimate government in Syria, claiming that both countries wish for Assad to stay in power until the Syrian people have the opportunity to elect their own leader. Both Russia and Iran have provided military assistance to Assad’s government, and recent media reports have pointed to greater economic and military cooperation between the two countries.
- US Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted US concerns and commitment to Tajikistan’s security in Dushanbe, his fourth stop on his first Central Asian tour. He stated after talks with Tajik President Emomali Rakhimov that he emphasized US commitment to “work with Tajikistan and other countries… to strengthen border security,” but cited no concrete measures. His visit comes less than a month after Tajikistan signed an agreement with Russia and other Central Asian states to form a coalition to protect external borders, with Russian officials musing the resumption of Russian patrols discontinued in 2005 on the Tajik-Afghan border.