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Former TeliaSonera CEO Lars Nyberg speaks in Stockholm in January 2013.

STOCKHOLM – Three former executives from telecom giant Telia have gone on trial in Sweden in a high-profile bribery case involving the eldest daughter of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Former chief executive Lars Nyberg and two other defendants are suspected of paying $350 million to Gulnara Karimova in return for a mobile-phone license in Uzbekistan and for the "protection" of the Uzbek government.

The trio was charged in September last year after the Stockholm-based company agreed to pay nearly $1 billion in penalties to help settle the years-long corruption probe.*

The court also announced that the closing arguments by lawyers and prosecutors are due take place on December 11-14, while the verdict is set for January-February next year.

Gulnara Karimova in 2010
Gulnara Karimova in 2010

Telia, which used to be known as TeliaSonera, is not the only international telecom company that has been ensnared in allegations over bribery in Uzbekistan.

In February 2017, Dutch-based VimpelCom, which is controlled by a Russian-owned holding company, agreed to pay $795 million to resolve U.S. and Dutch charges.

Karimova, 46, was once a high-profile socialite, fashion designer, pop singer, and ambassador to United Nations agencies in Geneva who was seen as a potential successor to her father, who ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist for a quarter-century.

But she vanished from sight as she found herself at the center of a financial-crimes probe in Uzbekistan in which many of her associates have been jailed.

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office said last year that Karimova was sentenced to five years of "restricted freedom" in 2015 after she and several associates were convicted of crimes, including extortion, embezzlement, and tax evasion.

Karimova has additionally been charged with several other crimes, including financial misdeeds, forgery, and money laundering, a statement said.

Multiple previous reports have indicated she has been under house arrest since 2014.

* A previous version of this story said, incorrectly, that the court in Stockholm had ordered Telia's current CEO, Johan Dennelind, to testify under oath during the trial.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Zamira Eshanova in Stockholm
Investigative reporter Natalia Sedletska, the host of Schemes, the anticorruption TV program by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

KYIV -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is calling for the nullification of a Ukrainian court ruling that gives authorities access to nearly 1 1/2 years of cell-phone data from an RFE/RL investigative reporter, saying the decision violates Ukraine’s own laws and Kyiv’s commitments to a free press.

The ruling stems from a criminal investigation into the alleged disclosure of state secrets to journalists in 2017 by Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine.

On August 27, Kyiv's Pechersk district court approved a request from Ukraine's Prosecutor-General’s Office to let investigators review all mobile-phone data from a 17-month period of investigative reporter Natalia Sedletska, the host of Schemes, the award-winning anticorruption TV program by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television.

RFE/RL spokeswoman Joanna Levison said the ruling was "inconsistent with Ukraine’s own commitments to promote and protect a free press."

"It creates a chilling atmosphere for journalists and should be nullified," Levison said in a September 4 statement. "That the request targets well over a year's worth of data belonging to a prominent Ukrainian investigative journalist raises deeply troubling questions about the real intent of those seeking the information."

The ruling allows the Prosecutor-General's Office to obtain information from Sedletska's service provider about all communications made to and from her phone from July 1, 2016, through November 30, 2017.

The Schemes program reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials during that period, including Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko.

Such actions also send a negative signal to other investigative journalists and, in general, erode the principles of press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources."
-- Oksana Romanyuk of the Institute of Mass Information

The Prosecutor-General's Office would be able to access all of Sedletska's phone contacts, as well as the date, time, and duration of all calls.

It also would allow authorities to review all text messages sent and received on Sedletska’s phone during the 17-month period, as well as other data -- such as the investigative journalist’s location when she received or made each phone call.

In December 2017, during a meeting at the Prosecutor-General's Office with her lawyer that lasted several hours, Sedletska refused to testify about her private communications with confidential sources that were part of her investigative reporting.

Sedletska cited a law in Ukraine's Criminal Code that says "journalists cannot be questioned as witnesses" about "confidential information of a professional nature" provided by sources on the condition of anonymity.

Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem wrote on Facebook that the court's decision was "an example of creeping dictatorship."

Another member of the Verkhovna Rada, Olena Sotnyk, said the ruling "brutally violates" the country's legislation and international standards.

Serhiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, said his organization “expresses solidarity" with RFE/RL and Sedletska and urged the authorities to “stop creating an atmosphere of hostility toward journalists.”

Oksana Romanyuk, director of a Ukrainian media rights watchdog called the Institute of Mass Information, condemned the court-ordered "eavesdropping" of Sedletska, saying it was "excessive interference" into the work of an investigative reporter whose work has focused on corruption allegations against high-ranking public officials.

"In this case, we are dealing with a violation of the protection of the journalist's source, which is guaranteed by Ukrainian legislation," Romanyuk told RFE/RL on September 4, adding that the court order applied "psychological pressure" on the journalist.

"Such actions also send a negative signal to other investigative journalists and, in general, erode the principles of press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources," she said.

Anatoliy Popov, an attorney representing RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, also called the court ruling "excessive," saying it "puts pressure on the journalist’s work within the context of her professional duties and provides illegal access to her sources of information."

"With this ruling, the court granted the investigation access to a much wider amount of private information than is needed in the particular case," Popov said.

Popov noted that the investigation into Sytnyk’s activities was related to an off-the-record briefing that prosecutors allege Sytnyk gave to journalists in Kyiv in May 2017.

"The investigators got access to the private information of the journalist for a period of 17 months, even though such a wide range of data has no significance for the investigation," Popov said. "This is a fundamental violation and we will act accordingly."

Specifically, Popov said, lawyers are preparing a formal complaint about the Prosecutor-General’s Office "exceeding the limits of interference into a person's right to privacy and the protection of sources of information."

He said a complaint also would be filed against Pechersk district court Judge Vyacheslav Pidpalyi at the Supreme Council of Justice, a state body that advises the president about the appointment and release of judges, examines court infringements, and carries out disciplinary proceedings involving judges of high-level courts.

Popov said that complaint would seek judicial relief for "violations that were committed during the judicial review" in the case "and in the unjustified order" by Pidpalyi.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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