The country's largest mobile operator, GrameenPhone (GP), is worried about a Grameen Bank (GB) commission report and seeking assurances it will be left out of the report until it files an application for the telecom regulator's 3G auction, sources said.
The Norwegian minister of trade and industry, Trond Giske, recently brought up the issue in a letter to Commerce Minister GM Qader, writing: "I trust the government of Bangladesh will do its best to resolve this matter in a fair and open manner, so that Telenor's and GP's significant long-term investments are not harmed."
The minister said GP, majority owned by Norwegian state-owned Telenor, would like to expand operations in Bangladesh and participate in the auction. "Unfortunately, at the moment Telenor finds that the framework conditions for investing in Bangladesh are highly uncertain due to the interim report from the Grameen Bank commission."
The minister pointed out Telenor had been GP's major shareholder since the start and "provided the necessary financing and expertise to develop GP as the largest listed company in Bangladesh."
The commission's report alleges that Tk96bn was laundered using GP in the past 15 years, it points at the telecom's licence not being issued in the proper way, and how attempts to set matters right led to further violations of the law.
Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission's 3G license auction was scheduled for June 24 but moved to July 31. The last date for filing applications is June 12.
Sources said before applying for the licence, both the GP board and Telenor want confirmation the Bangladeshi telecom giant will not be included in the GB commission report.
The Norwegian minister in his letter said: "Telenor has not been a party in the review by Grameen Bank commission, as it relates to matters between the Bangladeshi government and Grameen Bank." The minister, during a visit to Bangladesh in the first week of April, met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith, Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni, Telecommunication Minister Advocate Shahara Khatune, Commerce Minister Ghulam Muhammad Quader, Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) Chairman Sunil Kanti Bose among others.
Meanwhile, Sigve Breakke, GP board chairman and Telenor's executive vice-president has been visiting Bangladesh frequently. Last week he met with the telecom minister, BTRC chief, and commerce secretary and is scheduled to meet with the finance minister and other high officials during his next visit on June 2. He visited Bangladesh five times in the last month to address the issue.
On Wednesday, he told his inner circle they need confirmation about the GB commission report before going for the auction.
Back in March, he told journalists they were concerned about their licence and won't take part in the 3G auction if the uncertainties then facing the telecom industry were not resolved. The numerous issues were cause for concern among all the industry players.
GP sources said, Breakke would meet journalist when he returns next week and clarify their position.
Meanwhile, Mahmud Hossain, GP's chief corporate affairs officer told the Dhaka Tribune: "There are lots of issues related to the industry. So we will meet with the BTRC chairman this week and try to fix a meeting with the finance minister."
He said GP is yet to decide about taking part in the 3G auction and the issues have to be resolved first.
Telenor owns 55.8% of GP's shares and Grameen Telecom owns 34.2%, the remaining 10% is owned by general retail and institutional investors.