Telenor to sell mobile stake over Uzbek bribes

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.

Telenor to sell mobile stake over Uzbek bribes
An Uzbek advert for Beeline, Vimpelcom's local brand. Photo: Beeline

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. 

“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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Vodafone to close all its own shops in Spain by March 2022

UK mobile and internet operator Vodafone announced on Tuesday it will shut all 34 of its proprietary stores in Spain by March 2022, laying off 509 employees and leaving only the brand's franchises and distributors behind.

Vodafone has proprietary stores in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bilbao, Seville, Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, Santander, Palma de Mallorca and more Spanish cities.
Vodafone will close all 34 of the stores it owns across Spain. Photo: BEN STANSALL / AFP

Vodafone stores in Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bilbao, Seville, Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, Santander, Palma de Mallorca and more will close in the coming six months as part of the operator’s shift to digital. 

The company will pull down the shutters on all 34 of the stores it owns across Spain, confirming through its labour adjustment plan (ERE) that 509 employees will lose their jobs.

The operator is affiliated with nearly 600 stores in Spain that act as franchises and distributors, meaning it will still be possible to carry out operations relating to Vodafone in person. 

However, it will be a lot harder to get face-to-face customer service from the actual operator, if for example there is a problem with billing or you wish to cancel a contract. 

Vodafone CEO Nick Read announced back in 2019 that an increasing number of customers signing up to mobile and internet deals online rather than in stores would mean 15 percent of its high-street retail stores in Europe would close by 2021.  

Spain’s main workers’ union UGT referred to Vodafone’s offer to affected workers of severance pay equal to 33 days worked per year with a maximum limit of two years as “stingy”. 

You can check all of Vodafone’s proprietary stores in Spain here.