Telenor defends its new chief executive

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Embattled Norwegian company Telenor, already caught up in bribery allegations, has now had to defend its new chief executive who’s supposed to be cleaning up after the corruption case. CEO Sigve Brekke also defends himself, but admits he can understand why questions are flying over his embellished educational credentials.

Telenor's new CEO, Sigve Brekke, was under even more pressure this week. PHOTO: Telenor

Telenor’s new CEO, Sigve Brekke, was under even more pressure this week. PHOTO: Telenor

“I have never lied about my education,” Brekke told Oslo newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) after another Norwegian publication, Kapital, had revealed that Brekke had been credited for 10 years with a bachelor’s degree he doesn’t have.

From 2004 until 2014, the websites and annual reports for Telenor’s own Asian subsidiaries, Dtac and Digi, had listed “Mr Sigve Brekke” as holding a bachelor’s degree from a Norwegian college in Telemark. The college claims that’s not true and was unhappy when informed of the false claim. “We don’t like this at all,” Kristian Bogen, rector of Telemark College, told DN, adding that it “undermined” the reputation of the school itself.

Brekke admitted on Thursday that he had never completed the credits necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree, although he later went on to get a master’s degree in public administration at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the US.

Now he claims that the bachelor’s degree claims on his CVs published by Dtac and Digi, where Brekke held top executive posts, were all just a “misunderstanding” stemming from translation of his actual academic records. Asked why the incorrect information had been allowed to stand as published for 10 years, Brekke admitted to DN that he had never read his own company’s annual reports.

“But I take responsibility,” he told DN. “I don’t want to blame anyone else for this. I take full responsibility that it (his CV) was wrong. Of course it’s serious that an annual report portrays an incorrect profile.”

Bad timing for more trouble
The media uproar over news of Brekke’s “CV bluff” in Norway on Thursday prompted Brekke to cancel a trip to Denmark, where he was supposed to conduct a staff meeting at Telenor’s troubled subsidiary there. The “bluff” comes as Brekke and Telenor also are fighting hard to restore its reputation because of corruption allegations at its partly owned mobile phone firm VimpelCom Ltd. More trouble over Brekke’s own CV is the last thing Telenor needs right now, and Brekke said he could “understand there are questions now. The only thing I can do is be open.”

Telenor’s board, also under fire because of the corruption allegations, strongly defended Brekke. It issued a statement, which DN cited, claiming that Brekke’s academic qualifications in Telenor’s systems “today are correct,” including his college studies and his Harvard degree. The board went on to claim that its choice of Brekke as Telenor’s new CEO was based on a thorough international process, and that his background was presented correctly. The board claimed that Brekke’s 17-year management record at Telenor was the most important factor in its decision to appoint Brekke as CEO. The board’s chairman at the time Brekke was appointed earlier this year, Svein Aaser, has since resigned under fire after Telenor’s largest shareholder, the Norwegian government, concluded he had withheld information related to the VimpelCom corruption allegations.

Asked how he’s dealing with all the pressure both Telenor and himself are now under, Brekke repeated that he understands that questions are being raised. “I’m trying now to show the same openness when things concern myself as I’m trying to do in the VimpelCom case. It’s important to me.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund