Telenor investors review Myanmar sale

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OSLO, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Several investors in Telenor (TEL.OL) are calling on the Norwegian telecommunications company to ensure that its customers’ data will be protected after the sale of its Myanmar business.

Myanmar’s military rulers have given the go-ahead for a local company, Shwe Byain Phyu, to own most of Telenor’s business in the Southeast Asian country, under a deal to be finalized soon. Reuters reported on Friday.

Some human rights groups have said the transfer could put the data of 18 million people within reach of the junta, with several protests taking place in Myanmar in recent days calling on Telenor to halt the sale altogether.

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DNB Asset Management, Telenor’s fourth largest investor with a 1.64% stake, said it had requested a meeting with the company to discuss the impending exit, describing the situation as “a considerable dilemma” for Telenor.

“We plan to discuss the management and processing of personal data before and after any sale,” said Janicke Scheele, chief investment officer responsible for the investor.

Storebrand Asset Management, Telenor’s eighth largest investor with a 1.31% stake, said it was asking the company to exercise “human rights due diligence” when leaving the country .

In an emailed statement, Kamil Zabielski, head of sustainable investing at Storebrand, said Telenor needed to assess the likelihood of its assets being misused after his departure.

“Telenor should assess whether any customer data (or existing infrastructure) that may potentially be transferred could be misused by the military via a purchasing counterparty and take appropriate measures to avoid or mitigate such risks,” he told Reuters its head of sustainable investments, Zabielski. .

Pension fund KLP, which owns 0.96%, said it was also considering the sale.

“We are in dialogue with Telenor and other stakeholders on this particular issue to get the full picture of the circumstances,” KLP’s head of responsible investments Kiran Aziz told Reuters.

In response to statements from investors, Telenor said it must comply with Myanmar law to protect its employees.

“Some said they understood our need to leave the country, but asked us to shut down the operation and delete the data,” a Telenor spokeswoman said.

“Both in the event of a sale and if Telenor Myanmar surrenders its license to operate, data should always be stored in accordance with local law and license terms.”

“We cannot violate local laws without exposing our employees to danger, which is completely unacceptable,” she added.

Shwe Byain Phyu and Myanmar’s military junta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Norwegian government, which is Telenor’s largest shareholder with a nearly 59% stake, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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It is unclear what impact shareholder pressure will have on Telenor’s exit from Myanmar.

The company sought to leave the country after last year’s military coup, telling Reuters in September it was selling its operations to avoid European Union sanctions after ‘continued pressure’ from the junta to enable intercept monitoring technology. Read more

Late last year, military chiefs rejected his plan to sell his local operations – which once contributed up to 7% of his profits – to Lebanese investment firm M1 for $105 million.

Instead, they wanted M1 to partner with Shwe Byain Phyu, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Read more

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According to communications reviewed by Reuters, Shwe Byain Phyu, whose chairman has a history of business dealings with the military, will own 80% of the unit in a transfer expected to close shortly.

A Telenor spokeswoman previously told Reuters by email that it had no dialogue with Shwe Byain Phyu and that its sale agreement was with M1, which was “the only party we selected”.

Shwe Byain Phyu denied any connection to the Myanmar military and said she was “selected by Telenor…because she had the least connection to the military”.

M1 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Two Telenor Myanmar employees, who asked not to be named, citing security considerations, told Reuters last week that authorities had already requested the call logs of opponents of the junta and the last known location of the fleeing people.

They said Telenor complied.

Telenor’s spokeswoman previously told Reuters that it was not possible for Telenor to comment on the military guidelines, due to the risks to employees.

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Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore and Poppy McPherson in Bangkok: editing by Carmel Crimmins

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