Telenor said it plans to sell its entire 33 per cent stake in VimpelCom, currently valued at $2.3 billion (€2 billion), as it seeks to place its focus on "creating value in core operations."
The moves means that the Norwegian company has become the second Nordic operator in a matter of weeks to cut ties with a company facing a bribery investigation. In September, TeliaSonera said it planned to exit the Eurasia region after years of probes into alleged corruption linked to local partners.
Reuters noted that VimpelCom faces scrutiny from U.S. and Dutch authorities in relation to a bribery investigation launched in March 2014 into its operations in Uzbekistan, which is also one of the countries that TeliaSonera ultimately plans to exit.
A sale by Telenor would also give Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman -- with whom Telenor has fought for influence over the Russian mobile company -- the chance to increase his control of VimpelCom. Bloomberg noted that Fridman's L1 Technology, formerly called Altimo, is the largest shareholder in VimpelCom with a voting stake of about 48 per cent.
Telenor did not directly refer to issues related to bribery investigations or battles for control. However, Telenor Group chairman Svein Aaser conceded that the VimpelCom asset, "where Telenor holds a minority position without the possibility to fully control the company, has been challenging.
"Based on a strategic review by the board and the CEO, and after due considerations, Telenor Group has decided to divest its shares in VimpelCom Ltd. The disposal of our shares is in the best interest of our shareholders, and in accordance with Telenor Group's long-term strategic focus," said Aaser.
Telenor said VimpelCom has gradually contributed less to the value of Telenor Group. "Today, the market value of the VimpelCom…shares represents approximately eight per cent of Telenor's market capitalisation," the company said.
Sigve Brekke, president and CEO of Telenor Group, said the company's ambition is to drive profitable growth in the telecom business, "where Telenor will continue to monetise on the exponential data usage taking place across our footprint."
Telenor has invested NOK15 billion (€1.6 billion/$1.8 billion) in VimpelCom and received NOK20 billion in dividends. It added that it will explore all options to divest its shares in VimpelCom, and expects this process to take some time.
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