Ex-chief of Russia's Vimpelcom held in graft probe

5th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Norwegian police on Thursday said they had arrested the former chief of Russian telecoms provider Vimpelcom, which is embroiled in corruption allegations concerning its activities in Uzbekistan.

Jo Lunder, a Norwegian national who was alternately CEO and a board member of Vimpelcom between 2001 and last April, was detained late Wednesday at Oslo airport as he flew in from London.

"It's in connection with the Vimpelcom case," Marianne Djupesland, a police officer covering financial crime, told AFP.

US and Dutch authorities suspect Vimpelcom, whose shares are listed on Wall Street, may have made illicit payments between 2006 and 2011 to a company close to Goulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in order to obtain operating licences.

Lunder was on Vimpelcom's board of directors at the time, representing Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor, one of the company's largest shareholders alongside Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.

Lunder's lawyer Cato Schiotz told public broadcaster NRK that his client denies any involvement in any alleged graft at the company.

"I spoke to him several days ago. He said he was not involved in possible corruption at Vimpelcom," Schiotz said.

Vimpelcom said Tuesday that it has set aside $900 million for potential fines arising from the case, which has been interpreted as a sign it is bracing for sanctions.

The case is making waves in Norway where the government, which holds 54 percent of shares in Telenor, has demanded to see the operator's accounts.

Telenor's chairman Svein Aaser was forced to resign on October 30 after the government accused him of being slow to come forward with information.

The Norwegian telecoms firm has expressed an intention to sell its 33-percent stake in Vimpelcom, but finding a buyer could prove difficult as the Russian provider fights the corruption case.

Telenor's Finnish-Swedish competitor TeliaSonera was previously embroiled in graft claims in Uzbekistan, contributing to its decision in September to quit the Asian, Caucasus and Moldavian markets.

© 2015 AFP

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