NEW YORK — One of the world's biggest telecommunications companies will pay $795 million in penalties to resolve claims it paid $114 million in bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan, authorities announced Thursday.
The deal with VimpelCom Ltd., the world's sixth-largest telecommunications company, resolves criminal charges stemming from claims that the Amsterdam-based company and a subsidiary, Unitel LLC, used various executives and employees to pay bribes to obtain telecommunications business in Uzbekistan.
Unitel LLC, through a lawyer, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Thursday to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Meanwhile, VimpelCom admitted participating in the conspiracy with its subsidiary as it entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell.
Bharara said VimpelCom built its business in Uzbekistan from 2006 to 2012 on more than $114 million in bribes to a government official.
"Those payments, falsely recorded in the company's books and records, were then laundered through bank accounts and assets around the world, including through accounts in New York," he said.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking the forfeiture of $550 million resting in Swiss bank accounts, saying the money represents the proceeds of bribes.
Prosecutors said the bribes were paid to an Uzbek government official who was a close relative of a high-ranking government official and who had influence over Uzbek telecommunications industry regulators.
The bribes, authorities said, were transmitted through financial institutions in New York and then laundered through accounts held in Latvia, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Caldwell said VimpelCom's agreement to pay $795 million in penalties, including giving up $375 million in profits and prejudgment interest, along with the civil action, represented one of the largest forfeiture actions the government had brought to recover bribe proceeds from a corrupt government official.
She said VimpelCom also will pay a criminal penalty of $230 million, including a $40 million criminal forfeiture, to the United States and a criminal penalty of $230 million to the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands.
In a release, VimpelCom's chief executive, Jean-Yves Charlier, said resolving the claims against the company was a top priority.
"We are pleased to have now reached settlements with the authorities," Charlier said. "The wrongdoing, which we deeply regret, is unacceptable."
Charlier said the company had significantly strengthened its internal controls.