Friday, August 10, 2012 -
Russia's largest telecoms firm MTS said Friday employees of its Uzbek unit Uzdunrobita are under intense government pressure to implicate the firm of illegal activities.
Power structures in Tashkent are behind the harassment and want to appropriate the company’s assets, MTS claims.
The mobile phone operator on July 30 had its license suspended for three months following charges against senior management of fraud, embezzlement, and a raft of other financial irregularities.
MTS Vice President for Strategy Michael Hecker said government interrogators are hauling Uzdunrobita employees in for questioning that lasts for hours at a time without lawyers present.
"According to what [employees] tell us later, it is systematic intimidation," Hecker told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
"They are shown people in chains paraded [in front of them] and told, 'You're going to end up like this, in chains, if you don't sign this confession', he added.
“They are threatening them with bringing drugs to their apartment and then doing a search of their apartments – and all the usual pattern and program of intimidation."
Uzbek antitrust authorities earlier this week demanded more than $80 million in penalties for violations of antimonopoly, consumer protection, and advertising regulations.
MTS has strongly denied any guilt.
"What we are seeing is the clear misbehavior of the Uzbek governmental authorities – the prosecutor's office, the regulator – that are all lined up and orchestrated in a systematic way," Hecker said, adding: "All signs are pointing towards a total, final [asset] expropriation."