AzInTelecom, a company belonging to the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, has acquired a 51.3% share of Azertel, parent company of Azercell. Investing around 222 mn euro, the state-owned company now holds the majority share of Azerbaijan’s largest mobile provider.
Previous shareholder TeliaSonera, a Swedish-Finnish telecommunications company partially owned by the Swedish state, held stakes in Azercell through its subsidiary Fintur Holdings. The company, which is also the largest shareholder of leading Turkish mobile phone provider Turkcell, had previously announced that it would retreat from Eurasian markets after having been involved in a large-scale corruption scandal. Between 2007 and 2010, the company spent several hundred million USD in bribes to enter the Uzbek market, and in autumn last year agreed to a 956 mn USD payment to settle charges in the US and Europe.
In 2014, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova started an investigation looking into TeliaSonera’s operations in Azerbaijan. The investigation, a combined effort of OCCRP and Swedish partners SVT and TT found that TeliaSonera had been involved in what is suspected to be the largest bribe in Swedish history when formerly government-owned provider Azercell was privatized in 2008. Journalists revealed that more than 1 bn USD in state assets had been moved to companies affiliated with the family of President Ilham Aliyev. The investigation was later awarded an award by the Swedish Association of Investigative Journalism.
Technology expert Osman Gunduz wrote on social media that even though the Ministry for Transport, Communications and High Technologies is expected to address shortages in the mobile services market such as the poor quality of services provided by cell phone carriers, which have dramatically worsened lately, and to improve competition, it decided to buy shares of Azercell. He doubted that this is going to improve the situation on the mobile market and increase competition.