Telenor finance director Richard Olav Aa alongside chief executive Sigve Brekke at Telenor's latest results. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix
Telenor on Wednesday suspended its finance director, legal head, and two other executives, as part of its deepening internal investigation into possible complicity with alleged corruption at VimpelCom, the Russian telecoms group.
Telenor finance director Richard Olav Aa, General Cousel Pål Wien Espen, Fridtjof Rusten, the finance director of its Thai subsidiary, and Ole Bjorn Sjulstad, the head of Telenor Russia.
Telenor chief executive Sigve Brekke stressed that neither Telenor, nor Deloitte, which has been hired to carry out the internal investigation, had any evidence that the four were aware of or involved in corruption at Vimpelcom.
“We have no reason to believe that these have been involved in the alleged corruption in VimpelCom. They are trusted managers with a solid track record in Telenor,” he said.
“This is being done in order that they are not able to question the independent investigation being conducted by Deloitte.”
However, according to Cato Schiøtz, a lawyer for former VImpelcom chief executive Jo Lunder, the four executives had all been sent two e-mails in 30 September and 4 October 2011, in which an anonymous whistleblower expressed concerns over payments in connection with that Vimpelcom's licenses in Uzbekistan.
"A Telenor employee in emails on 30 September and 4 October notified Telenor about concerns related to the payment Vimpelcom had carried out," Shiøtz told VG ."In the emails, the employee said that he had alerted Jo Lunder but that the transaction had gone through anyway after Lunder had conducted surveys."
Rusten and Sjulstad have both previously served as Telenor nominees on Vimpelcom's board, while Olav Aa and Pål Wien Espen have had key legal roles within the parent company.
Telenor owns a 33 percent stake in the Russian operator, which is being investigated by US and Dutch authorities for allegedly paying bribes in order to gain access to the Uzbek telecoms market.