Norway’s Telenor Sells its Myanmar Telecoms Operation to Regime-Linked Partner

By The Irrawaddy 8 July 2021

Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor has sold its Myanmar operations to the Lebanese investment firm M1 Group, which was added to the Burma Campaign UK’s Dirty List in 2019 for doing business with the Myanmar military.

On Thursday, Telenor announced in a statement that it has sold its mobile operations in Myanmar to M1 group for US$105 million. It said that M1 Group will acquire all shares in Telenor Myanmar and continue the current operation.

“Over the past few months, the situation in Myanmar has become increasingly challenging for Telenor for people, security, regulatory and compliance reasons,” Sigve Brekke, president and CEO of Telenor Group, said in the statement.

“We have evaluated all options and believe a sale of the company is the best possible solution in this situation,” he added.

The sale came a few days after Telenor Myanmar said it was continuing to weigh its options in the country, a day after an industry publication reported that the firm was planning to sell its local unit and had hired global banking giant Citibank to handle the divestment.

The M1 group has been on Burma Campaign UK’s Dirty List since August 2019 because it is a major shareholder in Irrawaddy Green Towers in Myanmar, which has  almost 4,000 telecom towers across the country and is working for the military-owned Mytel telecom operator.

International companies conducting business with the Myanmar military or involved in projects that have resulted in human rights violations or environmental destruction are added to the Dirty List.

Telenor launched its operations in Myanmar in 2014.  As of 2020, it had 16,243 million subscribers and was one of the biggest foreign investors in the country.

The company was one of four telecom operators in Myanmar, alongside Qatar-owned Oredoo, the military-backed Mytel and the state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT).

The junta’s Feb. 1 coup was a serious blow for Telenor, which has since been forced to deal with military regime-imposed internet restrictions, as well as the human rights implications of continuing to do business in Myanmar.

Internet and social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, were banned following the coup. On March 15, the junta ordered a nationwide shutdown of mobile data to control the spread of anti-coup messages and anti-regime protests, in which pro-democracy activists have taken to the streets in defiance of military rule and in support of the shadow civilian National Unity Government. Later, the regime allowed internet access.

Almost 900 people have been killed since the coup and more than 5,100, including elected leaders, detained by the junta.

In May, Telenor Group was forced to write off the value of its operations in Myanmar, recording a US$780 million impairment charge.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the junta has banned senior foreign executives of major telecommunications firms from leaving the country without permission, while  pressuring them to fully implement intercept technology that would allow the authorities to monitor users.

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