(Adds Telia, minister comment)
* Telia, employees say not done wrong
* Company says Uzbek authorities support company’s position
STOCKHOLM, Dec 12 (Reuters) - TeliaSonera on Wednesday strongly rejected allegations of wrongdoing when buying a licence in Uzbekistan in 2007 after prosecutors looking into allegations of corruption identified two of its staff as being suspected of crimes.
In September, the anti-corruption unit of the Swedish Prosecution Authority launched a preliminary investigation into TeliaSonera’s purchase of a 3G licence in the central Asian state from a company registered in Gibraltar.
TeliaSonera, which has launched its own investigation into the deal, said prosecutors had now identified two of its employees as suspects.
“Two of Telia’s employees have been questioned as part of the preliminary investigation and have been identified as suspects,” Telia said in a statement. Telia declined to name the suspects and said they were still working for the company.
Telia said it had given police and prosecutors a detailed account of its dealings in Uzbekistan and handed over a confirmation from Uzbek authorities that the deal was done according to the rules.
“Telia’s management is firmly convinced that the current legal process will show that there is no ground for the suspicions,” the company said.
The case has been an embarrassment for Sweden which is the largest owner in TeliaSonera.
Financial Markets Minister Peter Norman said in a written comment to Reuters the allegations were “very serious” but that the government would only make up its mind when both investigations were complete.
The Swedish state and other shareholders sharply rebuked Telia earlier this year for allowing authorities in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan to access its networks to keep tabs on anti-government activists.
The government itself has been criticised for failing to live up to its own responsibilities as Telia’s biggest owner.
Telia CEO Lars Nyberg has staked his job on the company being exonerated from wrongdoing in the 2.3 billion crown deal ($352 million) with the Gibraltar-based company, Takilant Ltd.
A Swedish court in October froze Takilant’s assets in Sweden and said it had grounds to suspect two Uzbekis of money laundering. On Wednesday, the court refused prosecutors’ requests to extend the asset freeze to cover 1.8 billion crowns ($271 million) rather than the original $30 million.
A Swedish TV programme has said one of the Uzbekis in the case has links with the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Swedish-appointed lawyers have entered pleas of not guilty on behalf of the two Uzbek representatives of Takilant. (Reporting by Simon Johnson and Veronica Ek; Editing by Erica Billingham and Elaine Hardcastle)