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Finnish government cleared in Sonera UMTS bid

HELSINKI, Finland-Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications has concluded that “no government ministers participated in the decision-making process” ahead of Sonera deciding to bid for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) licenses in Germany’s cash auction in 2000.

The ministry’s report, based on an internal department investigation into the issue, concluded that Sonera’s board of directors and chief management executives “handled Sonera’s decisions in an independent manner.”

The investments into UMTS licenses eventually led Sonera to write down US$4.3 billion in losses at the end of July. The ministry’s investigation included a review of all government and cabinet committee meetings from January 1999 to year-end 2000.

According to the ministry’s investigation, all meetings covered issues relating to state ownership policy issues regarding Sonera, including authorizations to sell shares and establish stock option schemes in the multinational telecom company.

“The purchasing by Sonera of UMTS licenses in Germany and Italy was a clear mistake. However, it is easy to criticize those decisions with hindsight. During this era of technology hype, all telecoms felt it was essential Sonera participate in cash auctions,” Kimmo Sasi, Finland’s transport and communications minister, told Global Wireless.

Sasi emphasized that his predecessor, Olli-Pekka Heinonen, and former Sonera head Kaj-Erik Relander met only once during 2000. It had been claimed that Relander pressured Heinonen into backing the UMTS deals. “What the inquiry proves is that this claim is false,” said Sasi.

The ministry also calculated that Sonera has generated US$7.2 billion in dividends, the sale of shares, corporate taxes, and profits paid to the state between 1994 and 2001.

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