Telenor chair backs Brekke

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Gunn Wærsted, who recently took over as board chair of Telenor, was harsh in her criticism of Telenor’s former leadership but says she has confidence in new CEO Sigve Brekke, even though he was found to have embellished his resumé.

Gunn Wærsted will take over as chairman of troubled Telenor in mid-January. PHOTO: Nordea Norge

Gunn Wærsted, who took over as chairman of troubled Telenor in mid-January, says she still has confidence in Telenor’s new CEO Sigve Brekke. PHOTO: Nordea Norge

“That hasn’t been a theme at any of the board meetings since I took over in January, but I have drafted it with Brekke,” Wærsted told newspaper Aftenposten after a sensational press conference on Friday when Wærsted and Brekke both admitted that Telenor had been guilty of “weaknesses” in its management, communication and organization before they assumed their posts.

Wærsted said she and Brekke had “a good and thorough discussion” about his resumé embellishments, which included giving himself a college degree he didn’t have.

“I reacted of course just like everyone else,” Wærsted said. “Sigve has admitted that (his CV’s inaccuracies) should not have occurred.” Now, she insisted, both she and the board has put it behind them and are keen to move on, claiming they are finished with that discussion.

Brekke (in black shirt) during a visit to Telenor's new operations in Myanmar with Norwegian Trade Minister Monica Mæland (left). PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeri departementet/Trond Viken

Trade Minister Monica Mæland (left) apparently still has confidence in both Wærsted and Brekke (in black shirt), pictured here during a visit to Telenor’s operations in Myanmar. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeri departementet/Trond Viken

Wærsted’s confidence comes even though Brekke headed Telenor’s Asia division, where its operations in Thailand are now under scrutiny as well. An investigation commissioned by Telenor into its troubled involvement with Russian mobile phone firm VimpelCom, which has admitted to massive corruption, also pointed out problems in both Telenor’s Thai subsiciary DTAC and in another country, which Aftenposten has identified as Bulgaria. Brekke played a key role in building up Telenor’s operations in Thailand and all of Asia. Wærsted herself noted that some suspicious leasing agreements in Thailand were signed while Brekke was boss.

“I have confidence in Sigve Brekke,” she repeated. She denied Telenor had a problem with its management culture, even though it has had a problem with its “leadership, transparency and openness.” That has been branded as contradictory by a local business professor in Norway.

Wærsted herself, meanwhile, has been caught up in controversy around her former employer, Nordea Bank in Norway, which is among banks that allegedly has helped wealthy customers set up companies in tax havens. Wærsted headed Nordea’s operation in Norway but has claimed no knowledge of the tax haven use, and said it “would be sad” if revelations in the so-called Panama Papers case had an effect on her role at Telenor.

Business and Trade Minister Monica Mæland, who’s responsible for the state’s 54 percent majority stake in Telenor, has indicated she still has confidence in Wærsted. Martin Kolberg, head of the Parliament’s disciplinary committee, isn’t so sure, claiming over the weekend that Telenor’s former management all but evaded its obligations to share information with its biggest shareholder. Telenor’s own investigation shows that some executives in Telenor “had thorough knowledge about criminal acts at VimpelCom for a long time, with that information reaching its main owner, the state,” Kolberg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He said a new parliamentary hearing would attempt to find out how that could happen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund