Telenor chairman Aaser quits following government pressure

Telenor Group chairman Svein Aaser has resigned with immediate effect, citing difficulties in managing an investigation into VimpelCom as the reason.

In a statement issued today, Aaser said he had informed Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Maeland of his decision, and that the move formed part of a broader review of Telenor's ownership of VimpelCom.

Aaser -- chairman of Telenor since May 2012 -- said an ongoing investigation into VimpelCom had proved "challenging for Telenor", which recently announced plans to sell its 33 per cent stake in the Netherlands-headquartered operator.

The outgoing chairman noted that Maeland's "Ministry and I have had differing views on the handling of the VimpelCom issue," while emphasising that it is "VimpelCom that is under investigation" and that his company "has fully cooperated with investigating authorities as a witness."

Aaser also noted that the time is now right for him to step down after he completed the process of appointing Sigve Brekke as Telenor's new president and CEO, and preparing the company for the divestment of its VimpelCom shares. Brekke succeeded Jon Fredrik Baksaas in August.

"Telenor's transition from a telecommunications operator towards a global internet service provider has been my most important task," Aaser said, adding: "I believe we have succeeded creating a foundation for this transition."

The outgoing chairman also explained that he "assessed my own position" within Telenor as part of a strategic review of its VimpelCom holding.

However, Reuters reported that Maeland called for Aaser's immediate resignation after losing confidence in the chairman due to his handling of a Norwegian probe into VimpelCom's operations in Uzbekistan.

In a related report, Bloomberg said Maeland was referring to the receipt of key information from Telenor regarding that investigation that the minister believed should have been made available earlier in the probe.

When Norwegian authorities began their investigation in January, Aaser and then Telenor CEO Baksaas argued they were unable to divulge details of the company's dealings with VimpelCom due to internal confidentiality rules.

The investigation centred on an allegation that VimpelCom effectively paid a bribe worth $600 million (€544 million) to secure an operating licence in Uzbekistan.

Dutch prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into VimpelCom's operation in Uzbekistan in early 2014, and seized documents relating to the business during a visit to VimpelCom's headquarters.

VimpelCom has consistently stated that it would cooperate with the investigations.

For more:
- see this Telenor announcement
- view this Reuters report
- read this related Bloomberg article

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Telenor plans to sell 33% VimpelCom stake worth $2.3B
Telenor bosses to stay silent in Norwegian probe of subsidiary VimpelCom
VimpelCom faces criminal investigation over Uzbekistan operations