Telenor CEO hands VimpelCom probe over to external lawyers

Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke revealed that the operator is preparing to hire external lawyers in a bid to lay to rest the spectre of the company's investment in VimpelCom.

Brekke told Norwegian daily VG that Telenor is in the final stages of appointing a law company to investigate the operator's involvement with VimpelCom from 2005 onwards, amid ongoing allegations that the Netherlands-based operator paid bribes to secure an operating licence in Uzbekistan.

The lawyers will be tasked with establishing the facts regarding what Telenor staff knew about VimpelCom's dealings in Uzbekistan, as Brekke seeks to end uncertainty ahead of selling Telenor's 33 per cent stake in the operator.

Brekke said Telenor's board approved the appointment of external investigators weeks ago, after his own probe uncovered fresh evidence that he felt compelled to present to the board.

That presentation ultimately led to the resignation of chairman Svein Aeser late last week, after board members decided the information uncovered was of such consequence that they had to inform Monica Maeland, Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry.

While Aeser cited the difficulties in managing investigations into VimpelCom by Netherlands and U.S. authorities as the reason for his resignation, Reuters reported that Maeland called for his departure after the fresh evidence caused her to lose confidence in the chairman. The Norwegian government holds a 54 per cent stake in Telenor, the country's former incumbent.

Brekke told VG that Aeser was in full agreement with the decision to present the fresh information to the minister.

The CEO added that Telenor is also seeking to appoint an external advisor to guide its future investment strategy, and that the operator has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. Telenor wants to establish a system of alerts to flag up potential abuses, Brekke explained, noting that such transparency could be turned into a competitive advantage for the company.

VimpelCom has made no secret of its intention to cooperate fully with the investigations into its dealings in Uzbekistan, which began in early 2014 when Dutch prosecutors seized documents during a visit to the operator's Amsterdam-based headquarters.

For more:
- see this VG report (translated via Google Translate)
- view the un-translated VG article
- read this Reuters report
- view Aeser's resignation statement

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Telenor plans to sell 33% VimpelCom stake worth $2.3B
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VimpelCom faces criminal investigation over Uzbekistan operations