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Uzbek bribe investigation prompts suspensions at Telenor

Norwegian operator Telenor has suspended 4 top executives in relation to the continuing investigation into allegations regarding bribes paid by its affiliate VimpleCom in Uzbekistan.

Telenor owns a 33% stake in VimpelCom, which is currently under investigation by authorities from the US and the Netherlands due to claims that it acquired spectrum in Uzbekistan by bribing officials. The Norwegian operator has confirmed that group CFO Richard Olav Aa, general counsel Pal Wien Espen, CFO of Telenor’s subsidiary Dtac Fridtjof Rusten, and head of Telenor Russia Ole Bjoern Sjulstad have all been “temporarily relieved of their responsibilities”. 

Sigve Brekke, Telenor’s president and CEO, has stated that the firm has “no reason to believe that the executives have been involved in the alleged corruption in VimpelCom”, noting that “they are trusted managers with a solid track record in Telenor.”

However, the operator has stated that it wishes to “avoid questions being raised about the review”, and that the suspensions are by “mutual understanding” until such time as “the facts have been established”. Telenor will continue to pay the salaries of all 4 executives during their absence; EVP Morten Karlsen Sorby will assume the role of acting CFO.

Telenor chairman Svein Aaser resigned last month, while former CEO Jon Frederik Baksaas wrapped up a consultancy agreement with the operator this week. Last week, VimpelCom CEO Jo Lunder was arrested by Norwegian police but released following a court order as there was no solid evidence to implicate him in the Uzbekistan case.

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