(Adds background, court comment)
STOCKHOLM, Oct 15 (Reuters) - 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 details.
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The risks of operating in Uzbekistan were underlined in August when Russian telecoms operator MTS had its licence withdrawn and assets confiscated.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 Potter)