The sale of Norwegian telecoms group Telenor’s Myanmar division to Lebanese investment firm M1 Group has been cast into doubt amidst reports that the new regime will not approve the transaction. According to a report from Nikkei Asia, which cites sources with ties to the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC), the deal is ‘very unlikely to be approved’ due to concerns surrounding the would-be buyers, specifically: corruption allegations in Lebanon; reports of M1’s association with the Syrian government; and its methods of operating. The report notes that the military had previously been hostile to the allocation of a telecom licence to Qatar-based Ooredoo Group, and is reluctant to allow sensitive telecom infrastructure to be controlled by foreign entities. The regime has not commented publicly on the deal to-date, however, whilst the imposition of new COVID-19-related lockdowns due to a resurgence of the disease has added further delays to the approval process.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in July 2021 Telenor announced that it had agreed to sell 100% of Telenor Myanmar to M1 Group for a total consideration of USD105 million, USD55 million of which would be paid over a five-year period.
Meanwhile, Myanmar Now writes that the Norwegian government – the majority owner of Telenor with a stake of 53.97% – has distanced itself from the sale amidst growing criticism of the decision to sell the Myanmar unit to M1. Minister for Trade and Industry Iselin Nybo was cited as saying that the government expects its businesses to act responsibly and to protect human rights, but deferred to Telenor’s management with regards to the decision to exit Myanmar. Human rights activists have raised concerns regarding the sale to M1 due to the group’s history of working with anti-democratic regimes and more specifically with regards to the potential transfer of sensitive data from Telenor Myanmar to the junta. Since seizing power in February 2021, the military regime has implemented new legislation giving it powers to seize data from telcos that would enable it to more easily identify and arrest opposition figures. With the sale of Telenor to M1, activists expressed concern that historical data that could be used to identify protestors and opponents of the regime would be handed over to the junta.