Teliasonera hold direct talks with Karimov regime

Teliasonera, Gulnara Karimova and Bekzod Ahmedov; photo: Uppdrag granskning
Swedish television journalists have presented evidence that Teliasonera has held direct talks with confidants of the Uzbek president’s elder daughter Gulnara Karimova for access to the Uzbek mobile market and the purchase of Ucell.

Teliasonera and Dictator’s Daughter, a new 58-minute-long documentary made by journalists of the Uppdrag granskning programme, was aired by Sweden’s SVT television channel on 12 December.

It featured testimonies of two officials of the Swedish mobile giant Teliasonera who spoke on condition of anonymity of details of the Uzbek deal.

“To reach a deal with Gulnara was a prerequisite to the whole deal. And the negotiations with her started in earnest around February – March 2007,” a source at the company said.

No conflict of interest

He said Gulnara Karimova’s confidant Bekzod Ahmedov was a negotiator.

He was the then general director of MTS-Uzbekistan (Uzdunrobita) mobile operator, which was officially a 100% subsidiary of Russia’s MTS.

“Bekzod Ahmedov was Gulnara’s agent. He was her friend, her link into the telecom sector. He was handpicked by her,” the source said. “It was a crazy situation. He was the CEO of the competing MTS, and there was Teliasonera – at the opposition’s headquarters negotiating payments to the Karimov family.”

Information publicised by the sources of the Swedish journalists was confirmed by diplomatic cables sent by the US embassy in Uzbekistan.

One of the cables, leaked to WikiLeaks, said that Teliasonera “has made the right approach to the Uzbeks, including lobbying President Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara” and that Teliasonera negotiates “…with Gulnara indirectly, through the good offices of Bekzod Ahmedov, a director of MTS's Uzbekistan affiliate.”

When in July 2007 Teliasonera bought the Uzbek mobile operator Coscom to enter the Uzbek market, the deal with Gulnara Karimova was completed, the programme said.

“I was then informed that Gulnara would receive shares in the new company that Teliasonera would form. And that she through a local company would receive around 20 percent. And that Teliasonera would buy back the shares 2-3 years later – at a preset price. I don’t know the amount,” said one source.

“In exchange promises were made of a 3G licence, 2G- and 3G-frequencies and number series – which was needed in Uzbekistan” says the other executive.”

In September 2007 the Uzbek authorities issued the 3G licence that Teliasonera wanted but not to the Swedish Telco but to a small local Uzbek company called Teleson Mobile.

This company, formed only 17 days before that, was owned and controlled by Gayane Avakyan, who after having received the licence sold it to Teliasonera.

A negotiator was again Bekzod Ahmedov who also controlled the Gibraltar-registered Takilant company and accounts in the Swiss bank Lombard Odier in Geneva.

Through him Teliasonera paid 2.2 billion Swedish kroner, or about $250m at the time, the journalists said.
Gayane Avakyan avoided arrest in Switzerland

Bekzod Ahmedov

What has gone wrong between Gulnara Karimova and Bekzod Ahmedov is not known. Since July 2012 his whereabouts have been unknown, while the Uzbek authorities have placed his name on the Interpol wanted list.

The company he headed, MTS-Uzbekistan, started having problems. The company was shut down, its licences were revoked and top managers were sentenced, while the Russian company was presented claims to the tune of about $1bn.

Russia’s MTS said that it was not aware about Ahmedov’s whereabouts and it had denied that it had helped him flee Uzbekistan.

Valeriya Kuzmenko, a spokeswoman for MTS, told that Bekzod Ahmedov was not an MTS employee.

She did not answer the question as how he was a general director of MTS’s 100% subsidiary but was not an MTS employee.

The Uppdrag granskning programme also said that on 26 July Gayane Avakyan and two other Uzbeks went to Lombard Odier bank to take control of accounts previously managed by Ahmedov.

It was a crazy situation. He was the CEO of the competing MTS, and there was Teliasonera – at the opposition’s headquarters negotiating payments to the Karimov family”

A source at Teliasonera
Swiss journalist Francois Pilet of the Le Matin Dimanche magazine said that the banker had checked papers and spotted Bekzod Ahmedov’s name but not Gayane Avakyan. He telephoned Ahmedov but he did not answer the call.

Avakyan promised to come back with the documents need but disappeared. Then the bank informed Swiss authorities about this suspicious situation. Police arrested the two Uzbeks, while Avakyan managed to escape.

An investigation launched by the Swiss and Swedish police into allegations of Teliasonera’s money laundering and bribery in Uzbekistan has resulted in the freezing of millions of dollars in both countries.

The sums frozen in these two countries are much greater than the sums frozen during the entire Arab spring, the programme said.

During the past nine months journalists of Uppdrag granskning have been trying interview Teliasonera’s CEO Lars Nyberg but he has declined all requests.

Teliasonera also refused to comment on the fresh allegations of the journalistic investigation.