Telenor Group CFO falls victim to VimpelCom probe

Telenor CFO Richard Olav Aa and general counsel Pål Wien Espen became the latest high-profile victims of a probe into the operator's stake in VimpelCom, after both were suspended from their posts.

The operator temporarily suspended the executives as part of a recently launched investigation into Telenor Group's oversight and handling of its minority 33 per cent VimpelCom stake by law firm Deloitte Advokatfirma. Telenor Group said EVP Morten Karlsen Sørby has been appointed as acting CFO, and that he has immediately stepped down from a position on the supervisory board of VimpelCom.

Telenor Group backed Aa and Espen in a statement announcing their temporary suspension. The company noted that both men are confident they have conducted themselves properly when it came to handling concerns over VimpelCom's investment in Uzbekistan -- an investment that is currently being probed by authorities in the Netherlands and the U.S. amid allegations of corruption.

Sigve Brekke, president and CEO of Telenor Group, said the company has "no reason to believe that these two executives have been involved in the alleged corruption in VimpelCom," adding that both are "trusted managers with a solid track record in Telenor."

The CEO explained that the pair have been temporarily relieved of their duties to "avoid questions being raised about the review" by Deloitte.

In a related announcement the company revealed it has also suspended Fridtjof Rusten and Ole Bjørn Sjulstad, its former nominees to the VimpelCom supervisory board, as part of the same investigation.

Brekke gave the same explanation as to why Rusten and Sjulstad have been temporarily suspended, and the same backing regarding their honesty.

The suspensions follow two high-profile resignations from Telenor Group in recent weeks.

Chairman Svein Aaser quit the company in late October, citing the difficulties of managing an internal probe into the VimpelCom stake and "differing views" between himself and Norway's Ministry of Trade and Industry on how the company handled that investigation.

At the time, Bloomberg and Reuters reported that Monica Maeland, Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry, had forced Aaser out.

Aaser's departure was followed by the termination of former CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas' contract as an adviser to Telenor Group's board some 13 months earlier than planned -- a move the company said was by mutual consent.

Baksaas also cited difficulties relating to the VimpelCom investigation for the decision, stating that his departure should give Telenor's management and board the "room to handle the situation effectively".

For more:
- see Telenor's statement on Aa and Espen
- read this related announcement on Rusten and Sjulstad
- view this Reuters report on Aaser
- see this related Bloomberg article

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