Western Balkans citizens legally resident in EU equal to 14% of region’s population
International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has stripped Belarus of the right to hold the World Championship this year
Alexei Navalny arrested on arrival as he returns home
LONG READ: The oligarch problem
Russia’s grain harvest may fall to 131mn tonnes in 2021 from 133mn tonnes in 2020
ING: Russia balance of payments: supportive of ruble in the near-term, but risks for 2H21 mount.
Jailed Russian opposition activist Navalny drops Putin corruption investigation bomb on his second day home
Russian opposition activist Navalny calls for supporters to take to the streets this weekend
Western Balkans and Ukraine urged to scrutinise coal subsidies
Oligarchs trying to derail Ukraine’s privatisation programme, warns the head of Ukraine’s State Property Fund
Private finance mobilised by development banks up 9% to $175bn in 2019
VISEGRAD BLOG: Central Europe's populists need a new strategy for Biden
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
Hungarian vehicle makers hit by supply chain shortage
COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Poland
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
BALKAN BLOG: US approach to switch from quick-fix dealmaking to experience and cooperation
Corona-induced slump in global clothing sector dragged down Albania’s 2020 exports
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Turnover rose on Bosnia's two stock exchanges in 2020 while prices fell
Bulgaria’s government considers gradual easing of COVID-related restrictions
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Spring lockdown caused spike in online transactions in Croatia
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Moldova
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Montenegrins say state administration is most corrupt institution
North Macedonia plans to cut personal income tax in IT sector to zero in 2023
OUTLOOK 2021 Romania
Romania’s central bank cuts monetary policy rate by 25bp to 1.25%
Romanian construction companies' activity slows in November after intense 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovenia
Slovenia’s opposition files no-confidence motion against Jansa cabinet
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Turkish lira breaches HSBC’s stop-loss, Turkey ETF signalling outflows
ISTANBUL BLOG: Biden must find a way to work with Trump’s strongman pal Erdogan
Turkcell denies any affiliation with $1.6bn loan in default extended by Ziraat Bank to Virgin Islands company
CAUCASUS BLOG : What can Biden offer the Caucasus and Stans, all but forgotten about by Trump?
Armenia ‘to extend life of its 1970s Metsamor nuclear power plant after 2026’
OUTLOOK 2021 Armenia
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
No US move to rejoin Iran nuclear deal imminent say Biden national security nominees
TEHRAN BLOG: Will Biden bet on a quick return to the Iran nuclear deal?
Tehran Stock Exchange chief quits amid “Black Monday” fury
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
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Nordic telecoms operator Telia has sold its direct holding in Uzbekistan's Ucell to the Uzbek government for $215mn on a debt free basis, as part of its strategy to exit its Eurasian businesses, the company said on December 5. Ucell became corruption-tainted during a major bribes-for-licences scandal that last year resulted in massive fines.
Telia is streamlining its operations to focus on growing its core Nordic business—it previously exited another Central Asian country, Tajikistan, in 2016 and sold its Georgia subsidiary Geocell in January this year.
The company announced it was pulling out of Central Asia amid an international investigation, in which Telia, as well as Russian companies VimpelCom (later renamed VEON) and MTS, were accused of paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win licences for the Uzbek market.
In September 2017, Stockholm-based Telia and its Uzbek subsidiary Coscom LLC agreed in the US to pay a global foreign bribery penalty amounting to $965mn to resolve charges related to the bribes.
Telia, along with VimpelCom and MTS, were pursued by prosecutors for bribing entities connected to Gulnara Karimova, the now disgraced eldest daughter of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, to win licences to operate 3G and 4G services on the Uzbek mobile market. VimpelCom was fined $795m by US and Dutch authorities for the bribes it paid in Uzbekistan. Telia gave over $331mn in bribes to an Uzbek official between 2007 and 2010, according to US prosecutors. Telia’s settlement included $548mn in criminal penalties split between the US and the Netherlands and another $457mn for disgorgement of profits to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Lars Nyberg, a former CEO of Telia, went on trial in September over allegations that $350mn was paid to Karimova, in return for “protection” from the Uzbek government and access to Uzbekistan’s 3G and 4G telecoms market.
The deal to sell the Ucell stake was expected to result in a gain of about $44mn before reclassification of accumulated foreign exchange losses to net income from discontinued operations, Telia said. Telia’s now sold Uzbek subsidiary started operating in Uzbekistan under the brand of Coscom in 1996 and was later renamed as Ucell.
ING stung by the probe
Also in September this year, Dutch bank ING agreed to pay fines and other payments worth €775mn for “serious shortcomings” in executing policies that would prevent financial crime. While Dutch investigators found no evidence of ING helping its customers in potential criminal activities, prosecutors detailed several examples where ING accounts were used in committing crimes. They included the transfer of “bribes worth millions of dollars [by VimpelCom] via its bank accounts with ING to a company owned by the daughter of a former Uzbek president".
The Amsterdam-based bank said it regretted mistakes that allowed customers to use their accounts for money laundering and corrupt practices between 2010 and 2016. It was fined €675mn and agreed to pay another €100mn as a disgorgement payment.
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