Oslo: Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is worried that Norwegian mobile operator Telenor may be wrongly penalized in India’s telecom licensing graft scandal, he told Reuters on Wednesday.
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Telenor has denied any responsibility in the multi-billion dollar scandal, which has engulfed India’s government along with its ultra-competitive telecom industry and threatens to strip mobile licenses from Telenor’s majority-owned Indian unit.
Telenor has said any potential wrongdoing took place before it bought its licences from Unitech in 2008.
“We are concerned that Telenor should not be penalized for things they are not responsible for,” Stoltenberg said in an interview on the sidelines of a party congress in Oslo.
“It is unreasonable that they should be harmed by the errors others have committed in India. That’s what I’ve told Indian authorities and we will continue to express this.”
Stoltenberg said he had confidence that the Indian legal system would handle Telenor’s case “in an orderly manner”.
Stoltenberg has a history of lobbying foreign governments on behalf of Telenor, notably in Russia. He has sent a letter to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh asking to ensure Telenor receives “fair treatment” in the case.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Saturday charged the Indian joint venture partners of Telenor and fellow operator Etisalat. The chairman of India’s Reliance ADA group, which was also charged, testified before a separate parliamentary panel on Tuesday.
Telenor, 54% owned by the Norwegian government, is a relative newcomer to the thin-margin Indian mobile market, one of the world’s fastest growing.
It has invested Rs6,120 crore ($1.4 billion) in a 67.25% stake in Unitech’s wireless unit and now has a more than 20 million mobile subscribers in the country.
Shares in Telenor were up 0.1% by 03.20 p.m. while the European telecom sector was down 0.3%.