Telenor gets some support in India

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Things may be looking up for Telenor, after both a Norwegian and an Indian government minister came with some words of support on Tuesday. Rigmor Aasrud met with her Indian counterpart in New Delhi and said he called Telenor “an important partner” who’s been caught up in “a situation where it’s not to blame.”

Government minister Rigmor Aasrud was in New Delhi on Tuesday meeting representatives of Norwegian companies there, including (at left) Reidar Olsen of Kongsberg Norcontrol IT and Komal Kapoor of Ionnor/EDB/ErgoGroup. Aasrud also met with Telenor and her government counterpart. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no

Aasrud, Norway’s government minister in charge of administration and high-tech issues, was already heading for both India and Singapore on a planned official trip when news broke late last week that Telenor faced the loss of its licenses to conduct mobile telephone operations in India. Telenor has invested heavily in its Indian partner, Unitech, which has become mired in a corruption scandal that led to revocation of the licenses by India’s Supreme Court.

Aasrud’s trip is aimed at strengthening ties between Norway and both India and Singapore in information technology matters and public digital services. She took up Telenor’s trouble with her Indian counterpart Kapil Sibal at their meeting in the Indian capital.

“Kapil Sibal made it very clear that Telenor has been caught up in a situation where it’s not to blame,” Aasrud told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The Indian government authorities view Telenor as an important partner, and they hope their cooperation will hold out.”

Telenor’s joint venture firm with Unitech, Uninor, has lost 22 licenses for mobile phone operations for 36 million customers in India because Unitech is involved in the corruption scandal over how the licenses were originally issued. Telenor bought into Unitech because of the licenses it held, and now has felt forced to take write-downs of NOK 4.2 billion (USD 700 million) on its Unitech investment.

Aasrud also met with Telenor’s Asian director and leader of Uninor, Sigve Brekke, who also met with Kapil Sibal on Tuesday. Telenor officials called it “a good and informative meeeting where we presented our case.”

Aasrud said she’s glad they’ve established contact at the highest levels of Indian government. “Norway respects the verdict from the Supreme Court, but it is important for Norwegian companies to believe that it’s secure and stable to invest in India,” Aasrud told NRK. She thinks the Indian authorities welcome “constructive dialogue” to find “an acceptable solution.”

Telenor also may get some additional help from former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who’s in India as well this week as part of her membership in The Elders, a prestigious group of retired government leaders. The Times of India reported that Brundtland was expected to take up Telenor’s trouble with the Indian officials she planned to meet. A spokesman for Brundtland told newspaper Aftenposten that it wasn’t correct that she’d been asked to discuss Telenor’s case, while Telenor declined to go into detail. A Telenor spokesman, though, said “the timing was good” for Brundtland’s visit to India.

Aasrud also planned meetings in Bangalore before traveling on to Singapore, where she’ll study the delivery of public services over the Internet, visit the technology and research institute A*Star and meet her government counterpart as well.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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