GSMA to discuss Baksaas' future as chairman after Telenor drops him as adviser

The GSMA said it will discuss Jon Fredrik Baksaas' role as its chairman after Telenor Group announced it is ending its former CEO's tenure as an adviser to its board 13 months early as part of an internal investigation into its VimpelCom stake.

Jon-Fredrik Baksaas, Telenor president and CEO

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, GSMA chair and former Telenor Group CEO

In a statement emailed to FierceWireless:Europe, the GSMA said it is aware of Telenor's decision and "will be discussing this within our board." The association added that it "will provide an update in due course" following the board-level talks.

Baksaas was elected as chairman of the GSMA "for the board term ending December 2016" the association stated.

Telenor confirmed that Baksaas' tenure as a consultant had been ended with immediate effect by mutual consent, and that the former CEO had waived his 2015 bonus payment. Baksaas was appointed to the role in August, after Sigve Brekke took over as CEO, and the position was originally due to run through to end 2016.

In a statement announcing the early termination, Baksaas said his role as an adviser had become challenging following the "recent developments and ongoing investigations of VimpelCom," in which Telenor holds a 33 per cent stake.

The former CEO added that he hoped his decision would give Telenor's management and board the "room to handle the situation effectively" as it continues to probe what its management knew about alleged corruption by VimpelCom.

Telenor Group hired law firm Deloitte Advokatfirma to lead that internal investigation. That move appears to have been prompted by fresh information that came to light in the past fortnight that resulted in the operator's chairman, Svein Aaser, standing down in late October.

At the time, Bloomberg reported that Monica Maeland, Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry, called for Aaser to resign after receiving key information regarding Telenor's knowledge of alleged corrupt operating practices by VimpelCom months later than she should have.

Interim Telenor Group chairman Frank Dangeard said he was pleased that the mutual decision regarding Baksaas' role had been reached, and explained that Deloitte had been hired to answer questions raised recently "about what information the Telenor Group had about the alleged corruption in Vimpelcom."

VimpelCom last week made a $900 million (€834 million) provision in its third quarter earnings to cover potential losses arising from investigations into its Uzbekistan operation by Dutch and U.S. authorities.

Jo Lunder, the former CEO of the Netherlands-based operator, was last week detained by Norwegian prosecutors as part of a related investigation being conducted by the Norwegian government, the Wall Street Journal reported.

VimpelCom and Telenor Group have consistently stated that they are cooperating fully with all investigations.

For more:
- see Telenor Group's Baksaas announcement
- view this Wall Street Journal report on Lunder
- see this Bloomberg article on Aaser
- view VimpelCom's third quarter earnings announcement (PDF)

Related articles:
Telenor CEO hands VimpelCom probe over to external lawyers
Telenor chairman Aaser quits following government pressure
Telenor Group matches analyst predictions for Q3 earnings
Telenor plans to sell 33% VimpelCom stake worth $2.3B
Telenor bosses to stay silent in Norwegian probe of subsidiary VimpelCom