According to a leaked Ericsson report acquired by BBC News Arabic, the telecoms operator Ericsson placed contractors’ lives in danger by insisting they continue working in area controlled by the Islamic State [IS] organisation in Iraq. According to the report, this culminated in their kidnapping by IS fighters.
Ericsson is one of the world’s largest telecoms firms and a crucial player in the UK’s 5G network deployment, having taken over from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei over security concerns.
The fresh disclosures follow Ercisson Chief Executive Borje Ekholm’s admission last week, in reaction to the leaked document, that the corporation had paid money to get access to faster transit routes in Iraq at the time, and that IS may have been the receivers. After Ekholm’s remarks, Ericsson’s market worth plummeted by more than $5 billion.
The paper comes from a 2019 internal inquiry of corrupt actions and bribes in ten countries, which was obtained by the International Consortium of International Journalists [ICIJ] and shared with the BBC and 29 other media partners. The most damning revelations were the company’s actions in Iraq.
When IS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, a top Ericsson lawyer advocated closing down the company’s operations in the country, but senior executives rejected the advice, according to the study. According to the memo, they believed such action was “premature” and would “destroy” Ericsson’s operations in the nation.
Its demand that the company’s contractors continue to operate in IS-controlled area placed lives at danger, according to the study, because the militant organisation then kidnapped a number of workers.
At the time of IS’s takeover of the city, Affan was one of a group of engineers working for Ericsson on the field. On behalf of the firm, he was issued a letter requesting permission from the terror group to continue working there.
He informed German public radio NDR, another of ICIJ’s media partners, that they were met by a pick-up vehicle full of gunmen who abducted him as soon as he arrived.
Then, according to him, an IS fighter used his phone to call Ericsson executives and demand that the business pay $2.4 million to work in the region.
“He [the IS member] said that if you [Ericsson] do not pay, this person you sent and everyone else who works for you will be hunted down by us, we will bring them here. One by one”.
After being placed under house arrest, Affan claims that an Ericsson management ceased returning his calls. “He abandoned me, he turned off the phone and disappeared.”
The BBC and ICIJ contacted the Ericsson executives who got the call from IS, one of whom is still employed by the business, but they declined to comment.
After a month, Affan, who was identified in the Ericsson report, was freed. While Affan claims that Ericsson abandoned him, according to the article, one of the company’s partners “made arrangements” with IS to obtain his release and allow Ericsson to continue working in Mosul. These arrangements were not identified in the report.
Ericsson’s encounter with IS wasn’t the only one. According to the article, the company’s transport contractor took a “Speedway” route through the nation that evaded government checkpoints but crossed through IS territory. Investigators from Ericsson stated they discovered evidence of possible bribe payments to extremists along this route.
One top Mosul government telecoms officer, who did not want to be identified for fear of losing his job, told one of ICIJ’s media partners: “Ericsson knew well what was going on. There is not a sane person who would deal directly with IS, they all do it through the subcontractors. Militants would take a percentage from every cent paid in Mosul on any project or work. This is how they accumulated millions.”
Harb informed the BBC that he had been to Sweden on a three-day business trip paid for by Ericsson. He has not, however, received any gifts or advantages. He also stated that he was unaware of any Ericsson internal probe.
Investigators also discovered a $50,000 donation to a foundation linked to the rich Barzani family, who run Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous territory and operate the Korek mobile phone network. The study was unable to determine where the funds were spent. “Sirwan Barzani looks forward to the day when Daesh (IS) no longer poses a danger and he and his fellow Peshmerga can spend more time with their families,” a representative for Sirwan Barzani stated in response to our particular queries.
Following charges of systemic wrongdoing in five countries, Ericsson agreed a $1 billion settlement with US authorities in 2019. The new facts were not reported to the US Department of Justice at the time of the settlement, according to Ericsson.
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on the Ericsson matter. Ericsson did not react directly to the BBC’s concerns, but said it is continuing to work with outside counsel to assess the findings and remedies from the 2019 inquiry in order to determine what additional steps the business should take.
(Adapted from BBC.com)