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Dutch telecom company fined US$795 million

AMSTERDAM: February 18, 2016. VimpelCom, the world’s sixth largest telecom company that reported a loss of US$691 million on revenue of US$9.6 billion last year, is to pay US$795 million to U.S. and Dutch regulatory agencies for bribing a Uzbekistan government official US$114 million between 2006 and 2012.

The company will also forfeit over US$550 million in bribe payments held in Swiss bank accounts and a further US$300 million held in Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland that can be traced to the same Uzbek official.

VIMPLECOMVimpelCom, which admitted bribing a close relative of a high-ranking government official in order for its subsidiary Unitel to expand in the Uzbek market, has agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, (DOJ), a consent agreement with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and a settlement agreement with OM, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service.

The Dutch company provides voice, fixed broadband, data and digital services to more than 200 million customers in Russia, Italy, Algeria, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, Laos and Zimbabwe.

Commenting on the settlement CEO Jean-Yves Charlier said: “The wrongdoing, which we deeply regret, is unacceptable. Since the launch of the investigation, VimpelCom has appointed a new Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Group General Counsel, Chief Performance Officer and Group Chief Compliance Officer to drive the necessary change forward.”

According to the DOJ, rather than implement and enforce a strong anti-corruption ethic, certain VimpelCom executives sought ways to give the company plausible deniability of illegality while knowingly proceeding with corrupt business transactions.

VimpelCom began its business providing wireless services in Moscow in 1992 following an earlier invitation from Russian defense contractor MAK Vimpel. According to the company, founders Dmitri Zimin, a scientist working for a MAK subsidiary, and American entrepreneur Augie Fabela, built VimpelCom “based on a common passion to dream the impossible and to succeed”.

“Today we mark the resolution of criminal charges and civil proceedings against corrupt corporate entities that made bribery a foundation of their business model,” noted DOJ Attorney Preet Bharara.

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