TeliaSonera defends Uzbek deal

STOCKHOLM, Sept 19 Wed Sep 19, 2012 1:02pm EDT

STOCKHOLM, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Nordic telecoms firm TeliaSonera said on Wednesday it had done nothing wrong in paying for its Uzbek mobile licence via an offshore company in 2007, but such a deal would now be subject to more stringent checks.

TeliaSonera was responding to a report on Swedish public television SVT, which questioned the route it had used to purchase 3G licences and telephone numbers in Uzbekistan.

The telecoms group, in which the Swedish state has a 37 percent stake, has already been criticised in Sweden for letting authorities in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan access its network to keep tabs on anti-government activists. It has said it was following local laws.

TeliaSonera said in a statement that it had signed a deal with Gibraltar-based Takilant Ltd for 3G licenses and telephone numbers in Uzbekistan in exchange for $30 million and a stake in local mobile phone operator UCell, which it had bought earlier in 2007.

TeliaSonera said lawyers found nothing suspect in a background check on Takilant.

"I have no doubt that the transaction was done in the right way," TeliaSonera spokeswoman Cecilia Edstrom said.

Uzbekistan's State Inspectorate for Communications was not immediately available for comment. Reuters was unable to reach Takilant for a comment.

"If we were to look at a similar case today, we would do a more critical analysis of those type of risks that are related to human rights and more sustainability-linked risks," Edstrom said.

"In the past it was more the political risk situation and financial risk situation. I would say we have raised the bar."

Authorities in Uzbekistan revoked the licence of Telia's Russian rival MTS this month and Edstrom said Telia was worried about the business climate in the country. ($1 = 6.5668 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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