Berlin, 7 October 2021
The undersigned members of Uzbek civil society today call upon the UK government to utilise its powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and initiate a civil recovery action against the assets which UK citizen Mohamed Amersi derived from structuring the Telia-Takilant deal.
This international telecommunications transaction was later established to be a conduit for soliciting a $220 million bribe for Gulnara Karimova the eldest daughter of the then president of Uzbekistan.
While Mr Amersi denies any misconduct, a claim that should be the subject of rigorous scrutiny by law enforcement, recent media revelations nonetheless indicate he received significant remuneration for providing professional services that helped to execute the $220 million deal between Karimova’s offshore company, Takilant Limited, and Telia, a Swedish telecommunications company.
“It is time that the UK government sends a clear message to diamond collar intermediaries, such as lawyers, accountants, and consultants”, said Umida Niyazova, Director of the Berlin-based Uzbek Forum for Human Rights.
“It is entirely unacceptable in this day and age where rigorous due diligence and compliance measures are standard practice, to facilitate and benefit from, wittingly or unwittingly, grand scale corruption that decimates the economic and political fabric of regions like Central Asia”, Niyazova observes.
New revelations aired on BBC Panorama and published in The Guardian newspaper on 4 October 2021 reveal that Mr Amersi was directly involved in executing a share buy-back option with Takilant Limited on behalf of Telia. Takilant Limited is a Gibraltar-based company beneficially owned by Gulnara Karimova. She is currently serving a prison sentence in Uzbekistan after being found guilty of corruption related offences.
Subsequent prosecutions have established that this buy-back option between Telia and Takilant was in fact a mechanism used to solicit a significant bribe to Ms Karimova.
The corrupt nature of this conduct has been established in multiple jurisdictions. First, on 20 July 2016 a three-judge division of the Amsterdam District Court convicted Takilant of complicity in (passive) foreign bribery of a government official and forgery of documents in connection with receiving those bribes.
Following this decision, in September 2017, Telia entered into a settlement with the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and US Department of Justice to settle foreign bribery actions. The statement of facts attached to the settlements and associated orders document the act of bribery Mr Amersi has been implicated in by the BBC and The Guardian.
Specifically, TeliaSonera (as Telia was then known) paid an initial bribe of $30 million and awarded a 26% stake in TeliaSonera Uzbek to Takilant Limited. This payment was made in order that the Swedish telecommunications firm could enter the lucrative Uzbekistan market. The arrangement was formalised through a ‘Share Purchase Agreement’ concluded between TeliaSonera UTA, TeliaSonera Uzbek and Takilant. It was dated 24 December 2007. The agreement includes a call option, which if exercised by Takilant would require TeliaSonera to purchase back the TeliaSonera Uzbek shares from Takilant after 1 January 2010 for $112.5 million.
According to The Guardian and BBC, Mohamed Amersi was integrally involved in the negotiations in late 2009 and early 2010 to exercise the call option. Through this negotiation TeliaSonera agreed to in fact pay $220 million for 20% of Takilant Limited’s stake in TeliaSonera Uzbek, a $100 million premium over and above what had been agreed to in late 2007.
The Guardian states that “a memo shared with Amersi in January 2010 described its terms. Telia would pay Karimova’s shell company $220 million for 20% of its shares in Ucell (TeliaSonera’s Uzbek brand). In return, the Gibraltar-based shell company would help Telia’s mobile network receive and renew telecoms licences needed to operate in the country. The memo described the shell company as having ‘good political connections in Uzbekistan’. The director of the shell company was Karimova’s 26-year-old personal assistant who had no prior experience in the telecoms industry.”
Later in 2010 Mohamed Amersi appears to have obtained a success fee of $500,000 for “Project Uzbekistan/Takilant” which was paid into his Swiss bank account. This Swiss bank account, in turn, was controlled by Amersi’s British Virgin Islands-based company.
Mr Amersi, it is noted, denies being a knowing party to the bribe payment.
Without making any assessment as to the level of Mr Amersi’s culpability, which is a matter that needs to be established in accordance with due process in the United Kingdom, there is clear evidence that he benefited financially from what has been defined as a serious crime in multiple jurisdictions. Attempts should be made to recover the personal gain Mr Amersi made from this tainted transaction and return it to the people of Uzbekistan.
We note in this respect that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has previously employed its civil asset recovery powers to seize dividends received by investors exhibiting “lax” due diligence. The SFO’s then Director, stated “the SFO intends to use the civil recovery process to pursue investors who have benefitted from illegal activity. Where issues arise, we will be much less sympathetic to institutional investors whose due diligence has clearly been lax in this respect.”
Given the growing public concern over the role British lawyers, accountants, consultants and corporate service providers play in transnational corruption schemes, it is critical that action is taken now to ensure these professionals cannot keep the proceeds from their witting or unwitting involvement in these illicit schemes. This will help reaffirm the UK’s commitment to global anti-corruption norms and demonstrate that the current government is prepared to act without fear or favour.
In contrast to Mr Amersi, who lives a life of opulence as revealed in the Pandora Papers, millions of citizens in Uzbekistan, a resource rich country, live below the poverty line and thousands lack access to clean drinking water, sanitation, healthcare and education. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks leave home to seek work in Russia and elsewhere in the Central Asian region. The recovery and return of these assets could help change lives.
“If returned successfully, through a transparent mechanism, the money could serve the needs of the most vulnerable in Uzbekistan, including homeless people, people who struggle to make ends meet every day due to the lack of jobs and the families of those who have to migrate to earn a living abroad. These people suffered from the corruption of the crooked regime in the past and continue to suffer today,” said Ulster University PhD researcher and UzInvestigations Co-Director, Dilmira Matyakubova.
Umida Niyazova, on behalf of Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Germany, email@example.com
Dilmira Matyakubova, PhD researcher and Co-Director of UzInvestigations, Matyakubova-D@ulster.ac.uk
Farida Sharifullina, civil society activist, resident of Uzbekistan
Azimbay Ataniyazov, civil society activist, resident of Uzbekistan
Timur Karpov, photojournalist, resident of Uzbekistan
Sid Yanishev, journalist, resident of Uzbekistan
Murat Ubbiniyazov, civil society activist, resident of Uzbekistan
Kudrat Babajanov, Journalist, Uzbek exile, resident of Sweden
Alisher Taksanov, former diplomat, Uzbek exile, resident of Switzerland
Shahida Tulaganova, journalist, resident of the U.K.
Dilobar Erkinzoda, Uzbek exile, resident of Sweden
Ulugbek Haydarov, journalist, former political prisoner, resident of Canada
Alisher Ilkhamov, Uzbek academic, resident of the U.K.