Telenor to sell mobile stake over Uzbek bribes

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An Uzbek advert for Beeline, Vimpelcom's local brand. Photo: Beeline
11:42 CEST+02:00
Norwegian mobile phone giant Telenor is to sell off its $2.4bn minority stake in Russia's VimpelCom, after the company was accused of paying bribes to the Uzbek president's daughter.

Svein Aaser, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Telenor Group, said that holding a minority stake in the Russian operator had given it too late oversight of operations. 

“The VimpelCom asset, where Telenor holds a minority position without the possibility to fully control the company, has been challenging" he said in a press statement.  "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." 

VimpelCom has admitted to paying at least $94.5 million in bribes to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan's president, for access to the market. Several other telecom companies, including Sweden's TeliaSonera have been accused of paying more that $1 billion in bribes to Karimova.

Sigve Brekke, President and CEO of Telenor, told Norway's Aftenposten newspaper that the sale came partly as a resuilt of ongong investigations by the US and Dutch authorities. 

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"Being in the minority is always difficult because you cannot control the company completely. And we also have the investigation by American and Dutch authorities," he said. 

TeliaSonera also recently announced that it was exiting the Central Asian market after pressure from investors and the public.

Telenor, when the Norwegian state owns a 54% share, now says it will focus on its core markets.

"We want to focus on our growth areas, be it either in Central Europe, the Nordic countries or in Asia, and we now see a great opportunity to be part of the data growth that we see in the market. So this is a strategic decision based on where we want to invest," Brekke rold Norway's state broadcaster NRK.

Telenor bought its 33% share in VimpelCom in 1999, has invested 15bn kroner in the company and received about 20bn kroner in dividends.  

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