By Stine Jacobsen
OSLO, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Former Vimpelcom chief executive Jo Lunder is being held by Norwegian police on suspicion of corruption as part of a probe into its business in Uzbekistan, police told Reuters on Thursday.
Authorities in the United States and the Netherlands, where Vimpelcom has its financial headquarters, said last year they were investigating the telecoms company’s Uzbekistan operations. Dutch authorities have said this related to alleged corruption.
“Lunder is being held on suspicion of gross corruption linked to Vimpelcom’s investments in Uzbekistan,” Marianne Djupesland, lead prosecutor and head of the corruption cases team for Norway’s’ Economic Crime Police, told Reuters.
She said Norwegian authorities had opened a separate investigation into Vimpelcom’s operations in Uzbekistan and they had also been helping the Dutch with their investigation.
“We have been assisting authorities in the Netherlands in their investigation … We have not assisted U.S. authorities,” she told Reuters.
Lunder was apprehended at around 11 pm local time (2200 GMT) on Wednesday at Olso airport by Norwegian police, his lawyer Cato Schioetz told Reuters. He declined to comment further.
Schioetz later told newspaper Verdens Gang that Lunder considered himself innocent of corruption.
Under Norwegian law, police can arrest someone under suspicion of a crime and they are allowed to get a lawyer to represent them. Formal charges, if they are to be brought, come at a later stage. Lunder has not been charged.
Lunder was CEO of Vimpelcom from 2011 until March 2015, following earlier stints as CEO of the company from 2001 to 2003 and as chairman of the board from 2003 to 2005.
He is currently chief executive of the Fredriksen Group, a company controlling billionaire investor John Fredriksen’s holdings in shipping firm Frontline, rig firm Seadrill , dry bulker Golden Ocean, fish farmer Marine Harvest and a range of other firms.
Vimpelcom, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam and is listed in New York, is owned by Norway’s Telenor, which holds 33 percent, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, whose LetterOne fund owns 56 percent.
“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,” Vimpelcom said in a statement.
“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.” (Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, writing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Keith Weir and Jane Merriman)
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