Partly state-owned TeliaSonera took the first step in its plan to divest its controversial operations in Eurasia by selling its 60% shareholding in Nepal’s Ncell to Malaysia’s telecoms group Axiata.
“The timing is good, it’s a sound valuation and a good buyer,” said Telia chief executive Johan Dennelind, who foresees scope for other potential buyers of Telia’s Eurasian holdings.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has threatened to sue telecom operator TeliaSonera for SKr 8 billion in the wake of the corruption scandal in Uzbekistan, sources have told Svenska Dagbladet (SvD). TeliaSonera is now seeking settlement outside court.
Peter Utterström, an independent lawyer and leading expert on US corruption laws, believes that the threat from DOJ has spurred TeliaSonera to divest its Eurasia operations and show it is serious about cleaning up its business.
Operator TeliaSonera has announced its intention to gradually exit the markets in Nepal, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan.
In recent years the operator has faced allegations of bribery in its Eurasia business; following a review, TeliaSonera will now focus on its businesses in Europe and Sweden.
Azerbaijan’s presidential family is believed to have swindled the state out of the equivalent of SKr 6 billion, with the help of Nordic operator TeliaSonera, according to Swedish investigative programme Uppdrag granskning, the TT news agency and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
In 2008 the Azerbaijan state said it intended to sell its holding in TeliaSonera’s Azercell subsidiary. One of TeliaSonera’s holding companies acquired the state holding at an extreme discount; for USD 180 million, instead of the market value of USD 780 million.
In spite of the bargain, the Telia sphere handed over the whole purchase to a local partner, Cenay Iletisim, who has ties to the president’s daughters, and apparently without the partner having to spend a penny. Telia’s company financed the purchase and the local partner was paid back in dividends from the common activities.
Since 2008, the partner has received dividends of around SKr 2 billion. The partner also has the right to be bought out by the Telia company at the market price of SKr 6.8 billion, according to the latest annual report.
Plans by the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) to ensure telecom service providers provide continuity of service in the event of a power outage have infuriated the industry. TeliaSonera claims that back-up solutions would cost the operator hundreds of millions of kronor to put in place, while estimates suggest that Tele2 would have to invest half a billion kronor to provide such resilience.
Employer organisation the Swedish IT and Telecom Industries estimates the industry would need to invest two billion kronor in order to meet the criteria.