Officials from Swedish networking and telecoms giant Ericsson are being questioned by investigators in the US over allegations the firm paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to politicians around the globe.
The probe began after former Ericsson executive turned whistleblower Liss-Olof Nenzell handed the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents relating to millions of dollars of payments. According to report from Dagens Nyheter, massive amounts of money were sent from the firm’s Swedish headquarters via Zurich to recipients all over the world.
The paper claims the largest bribes included a €140 million payment sent to a bank account in Malaysia and a €78.2 million suspected kickback which ended up in Poland. The payments were allegedly made at a time when Ericsson was aggressively pursuing a number of major international public sector telecom contracts.
Nenzell told Sveriges Radio: “We [are] talking hundreds of millions, to several countries. I should have done this earlier.” The former Ericsson worker claims he was given instructions to destroy documents relating to the alleged bribes, but held on to them – waiting until now to make their contents public.
As well as Nenzell’s evidence, Sveriges Radio also claims to have testimony from a number of other top Ericsson executives, who on condition of anonymity have “recounted how they were guilty of active corruption in securing contracts in a large number of countries”.
Ericsson has denied any wrongdoing, claiming the allegations relate to a period of time some 15 to 20 years ago when it used commercial agents in international markets to help it win major projects. The firm has said that it stopped using middlemen in 2008, and that the allegations were related to the use of a payment system that was closed down in 2001.
In a statement published on its website, the firm said: “Ericsson disagrees with the claims made in the Swedish media that the company would have used bribes in a deliberate and systematic way.
“We cannot guarantee that individual employees have never, or will, act in violation of our code of business ethics. What we can do is to make sure we always take appropriate action when we have information proving wrongdoing. Ericsson has a zero tolerance policy for corruption and bribery and take these matters seriously.”
The revelations come just months after US investigators launched a separate probe into allegations of corruption at a number of Ericsson’s international businesses. Without going into detail about the nature of the allegations at the time, the company confirmed it was cooperating with US authorities.
Swedish media has carried reports of systematic corruption at Ericsson since 2010, putting unwelcome downward pressure on the company’s share price at a time when global investment in telecoms networks is experiencing a major slump.