MOSCOW, March 18 Russia's top mobile-phone
operator, MTS, said on Tuesday that U.S. financial regulators
had asked for its cooperation in an investigation of the Uzbek
MTS said the Securities and Exchange Commission in
the United States had asked for "documents and information"
related to its business in Uzbekistan, from which MTS was ousted
in 2012. The SEC inquiry concerned "investigations into the
activities of unaffiliated parties," MTS said.
International scrutiny of Uzbekistan has been growing, with
the SEC investigating the operations of MTS's rival Vimpelcom
and Sweden's TeliaSonera in the central Asian
state. Swedish, Dutch and Swiss authorities are investigating
alleged bribery and money laundering. The Swiss are also looking
into Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's president.
U.S.-listed MTS declined to say whether it had provided the
documents or planned to do so.
"This offer (to provide documents) is of a voluntary nature
and concerns third parties' activities," said MTS's chief
financial officer, Alexei Kornya.
The company saw its Uzbek subsidiary's assets confiscated
and took a $1.1 billion write-off in 2012 after a local court
revoked its operating licence. MTS called the case a "classic
shakedown" of foreign investors.
Vimpelcom said last week it was being investigated by SEC
and Dutch authorities, apparently over operations in Uzbekistan.
It had warned about possible investigations in
2012, because of its relationship with Takilant Ltd.
Takilant, a Gibraltar-based company, figures in a inquiry by
Swedish prosecutors into allegations of corruption related to
TeliaSonera's purchase of a 3G licence in Uzbekistan in 2007. On
Monday, TeliaSonera said the investigations had widened to
include the U.S. Department of Justice and SEC.