Norwegian telecoms group Telenor has received approval from the Myanmar junta for the sale of its Myanmar division to Lebanese investment firm M1 Group. Telenor confirmed that, as part of the regulatory approval process, Myanmar authorities made it a condition of the sale that M1 Group should have a local partner in Telenor Myanmar after the transaction between Telenor and M1 has closed. Whilst Telenor noted that it was party to talks between M1 and its local partner, it was able to disclose some details of the plans for the company post-sale. M1 has partnered with Myanmar conglomerate Shwe Bain Phyu Group (SBP), which has acquired 49% of Investcom, the Singapore-based company set up by M1 for the purchase of Telenor Myanmar. Following the completion of the sale of Telenor Myanmar to M1, the latter will sell an additional 31% of Investcom shares to SBP. The company will continue to operate under the Telenor Myanmar name for four months and has a transition service agreement with Telenor for six months.
Telenor has faced fierce criticism for its decision to exit Myanmar following the coup in February 2021, with human rights campaigners arguing that the move would put opponents of the regime at risk, as the new buyer is expected to comply with the junta’s demands to install surveillance equipment on the network. The installation of such equipment would violate Norwegian and EU sanctions on the regime as well as the group’s stated values, but refusal to do so contravenes Myanmar law and could put the safety of Telenor’s employees at risk. Explaining the group’s position, CEO Sigve Brekke was quoted as saying: ‘Telenor has to leave Myanmar to be able to adhere to our own values on human rights and responsible business, and because local laws in Myanmar conflict with European laws. The security situation is extreme and deteriorating, and we must ensure that our exit does not increase the safety risk for employees. With limited options available, the sale of Telenor Myanmar is deemed to be the most realistic alternative to keep our employees safe. Because of the current situation, we are significantly constrained in our choices and with this approval the transaction can be finalised.’