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$900 mln of Provision for Uzbekistan Probe on Russia’s Vimpelcom

Tuesday 3 November 2015

PARIS (AFP) — Russian telecoms provider Vimpelcom on Tuesday said it had made $900 mln of provisions for potential fines which may arise from a US-Dutch probe into its activities in Uzbekistan. US and Dutch authorities suspect Vimpelcom, whose shares are listed on Wall Street, may have made illicit payments to a company close to Goulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in order to obtain operating licences.

Vimpelcom, based in Amsterdam and headed by French former SFR boss Jean-Yves Charlier, has more than 220 mln customers in ten countries, mainly former Soviet Republics and emerging nations. The investigation has already brought the resignation last week of the chairman of Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor. Svein Aaser stepped down on Friday after the Norwegian government withdrew its support for him amid the alleged corruption scandal.

The largest telephone operator in the Nordic region, Telenor has a 33% stake in VimpelCom.

In a statement Tuesday, Telenor said: “Telenor Group sees VimpelCom’s announcement today as a serious development that significantly increases our concerns in relation to the potential outcome of the still ongoing investigations.”

Sweden’s TeliaSonera AB, which also faces U.S. and Dutch accusations that it paid bribes to gain a foothold in Uzbekistan, said Tuesday that it was waiting to hear from judicial authorities in the U.S. and the Netherlands before setting aside any amount. A TeliaSonera official declined to comment on the bribery accusations, saying only that the probes were continuing and that it wasn’t possible to assess when or how they will be resolved. TeliaSonera has said an internal probe had found the company had broken its own ethical rules but didn’t breach any laws.

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