September 22, 2017 / 1:05 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-Former Telia CEO charged with bribery in Uzbekistan probe

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STOCKHOLM, Sept 22 (Reuters) - The former chief executive of Swedish telecoms operator Telia Company has been charged with bribery over a deal to buy a 3G telecoms network licence in Uzbekistan, Swedish prosecutors said on Friday.

Charges against former CEO Lars Nyberg and two other former high-ranking Telia officials were filed with the Stockholm court earlier in the day, Prosecutor Gunnar Stetler said.

The move comes a day after the company agreed to pay $966 million to settle U.S. and European criminal and civil charges related to the case.

That settlement covered the corporate liability of Telia in the corruption investigation but not the individual liability of the former company executives charged in Sweden on Friday.

For years Telia’s expansion into Central Asia was the main growth driver for the former Swedish state telecoms monopoly.

But it ran into corporate governance problems and other difficulties in the region, forcing it to switch its focus back on its Nordic markets where competition is fierce and growth in spending on telecom services sluggish.

Telia’s move to sell its Central Asian interests has been a slow process, impeded in part by the remaining liabilities there, which were finally resolved this week.

It expects to exit Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Moldova and Uzbekistan this year.

Nyberg rejects the prosecutor’s findings, his lawyer Stephane Pleijel said in a statement, adding that he expected a court trial soon.

“It is my view that this drawn-out case will end with an acquittal for Nyberg since there are no grounds for the charge,” he said.

Prosecutor Bernt Berger told Reuters the defendants, if found guilty, could face up to six years in prison.

In Thursday’s settlement Telia’s Uzbek unit pleaded guilty to a bribery charge, resolving probes by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Dutch prosecutors.

“Telia Company has a good and constructive co-operation with the Swedish Prosecution Authority and the Swedish Police in the investigations of suspected corruption and we are very confident in the prosecutors and their work,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Nyberg left Telia in 2013. Four other senior employees, including the chief financial officer, left the same year. (Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Olof Swahnberg; editing by Niklas Pollard, Greg Mahlich)

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