Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor has suspended its general counsel and chief financial officer amidst a corruption investigation into VimpelCom, in which it owns a large stake.
Telenor, which is 54 per cent owned by the Norweigian state, revealed on Wednesday night (11 November) it had “temporarily relieved CFO Richard Olav Aa and general counsel Paal Wien Espen of their responsibilities”.
Telenor has instructed a law firm to investigate its ties to Amsterdam-headquartered telecoms group VimpelCom and the latter’s entry into Uzbekistan, which has been hit with allegations of corruption by the US Department of Justice.
The firm has not yet been named by the company. A separate independent probe by Deloitte, ordered by Telenor’s board, led to Aa and Espen’s suspension “until the facts have been established”.
Norwegian firms that have advised Telenor in the past include Haavind, Thommessen and Wiersholm, according to The Lawyer European 100 2015.
Authorities in the US and the Netherlands announced last year they were investigating VimpelCom, in which Telenor owns 43 per cent, over alleged corruption in Uzbekistan. Authorities in Switzerland and Norway are now understood to have launched parallel investigations.
The allegations follow a similar corruption probe into Swedish state-owned telecoms provider TeliaSonera in Uzbekistan, launched last March. The company instructed Norton Rose Fulbright to investigate its dealings in Eurasia. Swedish firm Mannheimer Swartling was also instructed to advise on Telia’s investments in Uzbekistan specifically.
Mannheimer Swartling has also advised Telenor in the past.
Espen joined Telenor’s legal team in 1995, becoming group general counsel in 2000. Prior to joining the telecoms company he was an associate at Norwegian firm BA-HR and an assistant judge in the first instance court in Lillestrom, Norway.
Espen is also an executive vice president of the company and head of its partner relations in Asia.
Two other senior managers, including Telenor’s Thai operations head and its Hungary manager, have also been suspended.
A statement from Telenor’s chief executive Sigve Brekke said: “We have no reason to believe that these [four executives] have been involved in the alleged corruption in VimpelCom. They are trusted managers with a solid track record in Telenor.”
Brekke stepped up to the role earlier this month after its former chairman Svein Aser resigned following a dispute with the Norwegian government over the investigation. Following a review by Brekke, last month it was revealed that Telenor planned to sell its stake in VimpelCom.
VimpelCom appointed Scott Dresser, formerly legal chief at Virgin Media, as its new general counsel in August 2014.
In September VimpelCom launched its first panel review since Dresser’s appointment, with firms including Allen & Overy, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a longstanding adviser to VimpelCom, and Stewarts Law expected to pitch for positions on the roster.