Norwegian police detained former VimpelCom Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Jo Lunder as the Nordic nation became the fifth country to open up an investigation into the company’s business dealings in Uzbekistan.
Lunder, a Norwegian who’s now CEO of billionaire John Fredriksen’s Fredriksen Group, was arrested at Oslo airport late Wednesday, the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime said. Cato Schioetz, his attorney, didn’t immediately return calls on his mobile phone seeking a comment.
“He’s now under investigation for suspicions relating to corruption,” said Marianne Djupesland, the prosecutor in charge of corruption investigations at the authority. “He was former CEO of VimpelCom and we’re trying to establish what role he had in the VimpelCom Uzbekistan case.”
Dutch, Swedish, Swiss and U.S. authorities have spent years probing graft allegations connected to contract wins in Uzbekistan. VimpelCom this week set aside $900 million to cover possible U.S. and Dutch fines.
Controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman and Norway’s Telenor ASA, VimpelCom faces questions into the role of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, in the awarding of telecommunications contracts in the country.
The investigation was started “because Jo Lunder is a Norwegian citizen,” Djupesland said. “I want to underline the fact that this is only a suspicion at this stage, so of course it’s far too early to say whether there’s actually any criminal liability here.”
Officials at Fredriksen Group weren’t available to comment.
“The Uzbekistan investigation is ongoing and it is not appropriate for us to comment or speculate on the arrest of VimpelCom’s former CEO, or the investigation,” the company’s press office said. “VimpelCom continues to cooperate fully with the U.S. and Dutch authorities. The company is fully committed to compliance across the group, which is a top priority for its new management team.”
Telenor Chairman Svein Aaser was ousted last week after the Norwegian government said the company had failed to disclose all the information it had in the case during hearings earlier this year.
Norway’s Parliament this week decided to hold a new hearing into how Telenor, in which the state owns a 54 percent stake, handled information relating to VimpelCom. Industry Minister Monica Maeland said she had lost confidence in the chairman.