The Uzbek government is piling on mobile provider Uzdunrobita. A subsidiary of Russian firm MTS, the carrier had its license suspended
by the Uzbek government on July 17 over a bitter dispute between Uzdunrobita executives and Uzbek authorities, who accuse the company of tax fraud and other dubious business dealings.
MTS denies the charges and has filed official complaints with the country’s highest authorities over several arrests of Uzdunrobita employees. The company maintains that some of its workers have been detained and interrogated without any access to lawyers.
Today, a website called UzDaily reports
that the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office is claiming the “total from criminal actions of top managers of Uzdunrobita” amounts to some 700 billion soms ($360 million). This is a full 200 billion more soms than the Prosecutor-General’s Office said the Uzdunrobita management team was on the hook for last week.
The site goes on to quote the Prosecutor-General’s Office as saying it has evidence that the “management of Uzdunrobita and its subsidiaries had a criminal group, which was formed based on family and relative principles” and that it had “shadow structures” for hiding and transferring vast sums of money.
The two sides could not even agree on how best to carry out the order of suspension. When Uzdunrobita complied and shut down service on July 17, the whole system went dark. Uzbek authorities were chapped that it was not done “in stages” as they had wanted. MTS claimed that they followed the law exactly, which seems to be the problem.
Uzdunrobita was Uzbekistan’s largest mobile provider, and the suspension has taken a toll on service in the country. In fact, the company’s reach -- it had a 40 percent market share in the Uzbek mobile market -- may have something to do with its demise. The Uzbek government has been increasingly aggressive
toward private firms recently and, having once had a stake in the company when it was owned by first daughter Gulnara Karimova, may want to get back in the booming telecom business.
Uzbeks would presumably like to discuss such things, but the line is dead.
-- Zach Peterson