Telco Hall of Shame: TeliaSonera

Inductee: TeliaSonera AB

Headquarters: Sweden

Acting CEO: Per-Arne Blomquist

Board Chairman: Anders Narvinger

TeliaSonera Board of Directors


Network Size170 million subscribers.

Countries of Operation: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Nepal, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Russia, and Turkey.

Finances: 21,072 million SEK in net income 2011 (approx. over $3 billion US)


“We have moved the handling of requirements from public authorities that risk conflicting with human rights – for example requirements to shut down all or parts of mobile networks – to group management, rather than handling such requirements locally in each country, as was the case before. Where at all possible, we will communicate externally any significant shutdowns of networks at the request of public authorities.”

“Each country formulates its own legislation, and the principles of freedom of expression and the right to privacy can often be found in a country’s constitutional laws. Exceptions ot and limitations of these principles which affect a telecoms operator’s activities are to be found in laws at a lower level, ordinances, decisions and permit conditions (licenses). Difficulties naturally arise when a country’s national regulations are felt to conflict with what is internationally regarded as a restriction of freedom of expression or an invasion of privacy. In accordance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, a telecoms operator should then still attempt, like any other company, to respect internationally recognised human rights as far as possible.”

Freedom of Expression: “We believe that access to telephony and internet cater to economic growth as well as more open societies and therefore it is better to be present also in countries where it leaves more to be desired regarding the right to express oneself. There are, however, obvious challenges when a regime has disproportionate demand to eavesdrop or track subscribers – or even close the door to the Internet.”

TeliaSonera’s privacy policy states that it will “only provide personal data to authorities to the extent required by law or with the customer’s permission. Written demands from authorities are preferable although it is recognised that communications will be oral instead of written in certain circumstances, such as when the law permits verbal demands and in emergency situations.”


Helping regimes spy on citizens in the CIS region

Swedish news show Uppdrag Granskning reported that TeliaSonera sold high-tech surveillance gear to the governments of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan. Swedish news outlets revealed that TeliaSonera allowed non-democratic regimes in Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan to access its networks, where security officers sat in the very offices of the telecom. Reports noted that the “direct access to subscribers’ telephone calls, data, and text messages” provided to security services resulted in the arrests of members of political opposition groups.

Tajikistan network shutdowns

In July 2012, TeliaSonera’s Tajik subsidiary, Tcell, complied with government orders and shut down networks in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Province for one month after a conflict erupted there. According to some reports, 17 soldiers, 30 rebels and at least one civilian were killed during the conflict; other sources report more casualties.

More than two weeks after the shutdown, on August 10, TeliaSonera commented on the situation, blaming government orders for the disruption and saying customers continued to be affected.

Bribery in Uzbekistan

A September 2012 investigative reporting documentary, also by Uppdrag Granskning, opened a bribery investigation by Swedish authorities into TeliaSonera’s dealings in Uzbekistan. The company was accused of facilitating money laundering, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bribe its way into being the country’s 3G provider.

The company denied the claims, stating that they had bought the 3G license from the license owner, Takilant Ltd. However, the Gibraltar-based Takilant was formed mere weeks prior to the deal with TeliaSonera, and is run by a close associate of the Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the the dictatorial Uzbekistani president Islam Karimov.

Due to these troubles, the Board Chairman, Anders Naryinger, announced his early resignation effective April 2013.

The reports by Uppdrag Granskning prompted the Swedish Parliament’s Committee on Industry and Trade to open an investigation into TeliaSonera’s dealings in Uzbekistan. The Stockholm District Courts ordered 1.8 billion SEK of TeliaSonera’s assets frozen as the investigation was underway. Two TeliaSonera managers were placed under investigation by Swedish authorities on suspicion of involvement in the bribery scandal.

In February 2013, TeliaSonera announced that a law firm hired by their board to conduct an independent investigation “has not found any substance to the allegations…” However, the firm concluded that “not enough effort was made to investigate either the local partner in Uzbekistan, or how the local partner could hold the rights which were later transferred. […] thereby the company’s internal ethical guidelines were not followed completely.”

In an interview, the lawyer responsible for the investigations stated that they “cannot rule out” the possibility of a crime having occurred.

Lars Nyberg, TeliaSonera’s CEO, resigned over these findings.

In an unrelated corruption scandal, three TeliaSonera managers were placed under investigation for accepting bribes.


TeliaSonera has candidly acknowledged and discussed the human rights implications of their work, as well as how far the industry still needs to progress in this field.

The company was a leading member of the Industry Dialogue, and former CEO Nyberg had stated that “the telecom industry needs to collaborate to bring about true change.”

Before resigning, Nyberg stated that, “If we experience a situation where under a certain government there are serious breaches of human rights on a regular basis … we must be ready to have a debate in the company whether we should be in that country or not.” TeliaSonera is one of the few telcos to raise the possibility of withdrawing operations from a country due to human rights concerns.

TeliaSonera asserted that they did not enter into the Burmese market in 2011 due to human rights concerns, and stated that the company may leave a country if the risks of involvement in human rights violations grew too large.

TeliaSonera partnered with the Danish Institute for Human Rights to perform a comprehensive self-review of its Human Rights policies and practices, benchmarking its activities to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The company moved major decisions regarding compliance with local laws, such as the disruption of parts of or whole networks, from the local management to headquarters level. The company also reviewed the legal and license requirements, and its internal policies, for compliance with law enforcement agencies in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. It also requested that its partner Turkcell do the same in Turkey, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Know something about TeliaSonera that we missed? Let our telco policy expert Peter Micek know [email protected] | Public Key: 0x22510994