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28 May 2024

Norway's Telenor says 'not dead yet' in India market


Norwegian phone giant Telenor said Monday it was examining all legal means to keep operating in India following a court order cancelling its mobile licences, declaring "we're not dead yet".

India's Supreme Court late last week scrapped 122 telecom permits, including 22 held by Telenor's majority-owned Indian unit, Unitech Wireless, on grounds the 2008 licensing process was underpriced and rigged.

"We came to India to win -- we came here to stay," Sigve Brekke, head of Telenor's Asian operations, told reporters in Indian capital New Delhi.

"We're not dead yet," he said, but he added he was "angry and upset because it is very clear that we (Telenor) have been unfairly harmed".

At the same time, he did not rule out the possibility that Telenor, which has some 40 million Indian customers, might have to exit the country.

Brekke said the Oslo-based company was "considering all legal options" to resolve the problems embroiling its 67-percent-owned cellular arm, including filing a petition in the Supreme Court to review the ruling.

The licensing sales are at the heart of one of India's biggest corruption scandals in which former telecom minister A. Raja is alleged to have mis-sold the licences and favoured some firms, costing the treasury up to ê39 billion.

Norwegian state-backed Telenor is also holding talks with India's telecom regulator and the Indian government to decide the way forward, Brekke said.

The order cancelling the licences takes effect in four months after which new auctions are to be held to re-allocate the permits.

"It's difficult to say whether we will bid," Brekke said. "We have to see the base price first."

Telenor, the second-largest foreign investor in the country's flagship telecom sector after Britain's Vodafone, entered India's telecom market in 2009, paying ê1.1 billion for its stake in Indian mobile firm Uninor.

It partnered with Indian property developer Unitech, one of a number of Indian firms with no telecom experience that bought licences in 2008 and later sold stakes in their new cellular firms to foreign investors for hefty sums.