One of Sweden’s biggest bribery trials has started in Stockholm amidst great media interest. Lars Nyberg, a former CEO of the telecom company Telia, along with two other defendants are on trial over allegations that $350mn was paid to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s former dictator Karim Karimov in return for the “protection” of the Uzbek government and access to Uzbekistan’s telecoms market.
A third person is charged with serious bribery with a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The accused are former Managing Director Lars Nyberg, Former Deputy CEO Tero Kivisaari, who served as Telia’s Eurasian Director, as well as a former lawyer for the company. All three have denied the allegations.
Prosecutor Gunnar Stetler said at the start of the trial that the TeliaSonera, as it was called a the time, paid more than three billion kronor (300 million euros) in bribes to Karimova to win a licence to operate as mobile network in the former Soviet republic.
The defendants have denied the allegations on the grounds that the law on bribery extends only to those who have a formal status or function – not a presidential daughter who did not have a official role as a licensing body.
According to the prosecutor, three Telia executives have been involved in agreements and arrangements with the company’s Uzbek partner and Karimov.
None of the accused admit to knowing that the money was going to Karimova. Telia acquired licenses from Takilant, a mailbox company registered in Gibraltar which was owned, on paper, by a 22-year-old relative of Karimova’s.
The investigation showed that Mr Takilant’s real owner was Karimova. Telia’s internal correspondence revealed that the company’s directors had learned that they were actually doing business with the president’s daughter.
Islam Karimov died in 2016. Gulnara Karimova was sentenced to five years in prison in Uzbekistan in 2015 after being found guilty of separate corruption charges.
Last year, Telia paid fines and compensation of over 800 million euros in a settlement with the US and Dutch authorities.