(Adds background, court comment)
STOCKHOLM Oct 15 A Swedish court has approved
the freezing of a bank account controlled by a Gibralter-based
company from which TeliaSonera bought a 3G licence in
Uzbekistan and said it had grounds to suspect two Uzbek
nationals of money laundering.
The court on Monday named the two representatives of
Gibraltar-based Takilant as Gayane Avakyan and Alisher Ergashev
and said it had grounds to suspect they "...are guilty of money
laundering of a serious nature." It did not give further
Documents released by the court said the two Uzbekis'
lawyers denied the allegations on their clients' behalf.
The court said the two could attempt to spirit away the
money if the company's account at Nordea was not frozen
and confirmed a decision by prosecutors to freeze the just over
$30 million in the bank.
Prosecutors opened a preliminary probe last month into the
license deal in 2007 after a Swedish TV programme said Takilant
had close ties with the daughter of Uzbek president Islam
Karimov and raised questions about the transaction.
Karimov has ruled the gas-rich republic with an iron hand
since it gained independence from the Soviet Union.
Prosecutors had originally asked the court to freeze around
1.5 billion crowns of Takilant assets on the grounds the
company's representatives were suspected of being involved in
bribery and money laundering. But the court said it had no
jurisdiction in the bribery charge.
TeliaSonera, partially owned by the Swedish state, has
denied it did anything wrong in buying its Uzbek 3G license and
has appointed external investigators to look at the 2.3 billion
crown ($344 million) deal.
The results of the probe, by law firm Mannheimer Swartling,
are expected before the end of the year. Telia CEO Lars Nyberg
has staked his job on the firm being exonerated.
The risks of operating in Uzbekistan were underlined in
August when Russian telecoms operator MTS had its licence
withdrawn and assets confiscated.
Telia has put Uzbekistan on its watch-list, opening up the
possibility that it could pull out of the country.
But the firm has said it will remain in central Asia, the
fastest growing part of its business.
($1 = 6.6827 Swedish crowns)
(Reporting by Simon Johnson, editing by Patrick Lannin and Mark