STOCKHOLM, Dec 5 (Reuters) - TeliaSonera’s chairman is to leave in April after pressure from the government - the Swedish telecoms group’s biggest shareholder - over its business in central Asia.
Chairman Anders Narvinger said on Wednesday he understood the company’s nomination committee wanted “a new start” for TeliaSonera and, therefore, he had decided to step down.
In September, prosecutors launched a probe into TeliaSonera’s purchase of a telecom license in Uzbekistan after allegations of bribery and money laundering.
While TeliaSonera denied the accusations, the government heavily criticised the company and called for a boardroom shake-up.
“We believe that some form of change is needed at TeliaSonera so that in the future the company can work more intensively with, among other things, sustainability issues,” Kristina Ekengren, head of the company’s nomination committee and an under-secretary at the finance ministry, told Reuters.
TeliaSonera has been under intense scrutiny this year over its activities in central Asia.
In September, a programme on Swedish public television revealed TeliaSonera bought a 3G license in Uzbekistan from a Gibralter-based company that, the programme said, had close ties to the daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov.
Assets in Sweden belonging to the Gibraltar company, Takilant, have been frozen with a court saying there were grounds to suspect two of Takilant’s representatives were guilty of money laundering.
TeliaSonera chief executive Lars Nyberg, whose contract is up at the end of next year, has denied any wrongdoing and the company has launched its own investigation into the purchase.
Earlier this year, TeliaSonera got in hot water 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’s actions have embarrassed Sweden’s government - proud of the country’s squeaky-clean image abroad. Markets minister Peter Norman has said the government could take a seat on TeliaSonera’s board to tighten its oversight of the company. (Reporting by Simon Johnson and Olof Swahnberg; Editing by Dan Lalor)