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Telenor steps up fight on Altimo „propaganda”

Telenor  has written directly to members of Altimo's international advisory board, including the former foreign secretary Lord Hurd, appealing for „an earnest and comprehensive examination” of the Russian telecoms investor's alleged propaganda campaign against the Norwegian company.

The two companies have been engaged in a bitter battle since 2004 over jointly owned mobile phone assets in Russia and the Ukraine. Telenor AS, which is majority owned by the Norwegian government, has accused the Russian company of waging an underhand campaign against it to gain control of the Kyivstar mobile operator in the Ukraine. Altimo, an investment vehicle controlled by the billionaire Mikhail Fridman, has been accused of bribing journalists to write negative articles about Telenor, influencing judges and whipping up nationalist sentiment against Norwegians within the Ukraine.

Jan Edvard Thygesen, head of Telenor's central and Eastern European division, has sent a letter to Lord Hurd, and other members of Altimo's International Advisory Board, including Sir Julian Horn-Smith who was previously deputy CEO of Vodafone, calling for them to review the Russian company's actions. Thygesen said Telenor has suffered a „sustained, multi-front attack” that continues unabated. He said that Altimo's campaign was aimed at undermining Telenor's ownership and control of the mobile operators VimpelCom in Russia and Kyivstar in the Ukraine.

„I appreciate your willingness to review these actions and hope that you can impress on Altimo the way to create value for itself and its assets is to embrace transparency, corporate governance and ethical business practices,” Thygesen said. He said the alleged actions of Altimo were inconsistent with the „internationalism and best practice approach” that the International Advisory Board was supposed to bring to the Russian company. Other members of Altimo's international board that have been sent the letter include Sir Roderic Lyne, a former British Ambassador to Russia, Kurt Hellstrom, a former president of the Swedish telecoms equipment giant Ericsson, and Peter Watson, a former chairman of the US International Trade Commission.

Lord Hurd declined to comment, as did Altimo. Yet sources close to the situation dismissed the letter. „This letter is nothing more than a rehash of already discredited arguments. Telenor is trying every door in the last-chance saloon,” the source said, adding that the letter also continued inaccuracies such as citing a US Congressional investigation that has already ended. Despite the controversy around the company, Altimo is set to strengthen its International Advisory Board by appointing Jack Rosen, head of the American Jewish Congress, as a new member.

Telenor has filed documents leveling various accusations at Altimo with the International Court of Arbitration in New York. It argues that it has been left with no choice but to vigorously pursue remedies against Altimo's subsidiaries in Russia and the Ukraine. Altimo has countered that it has successfully defended several previous legal actions brought against it by Telenor and it is now considering legal action to protect its reputation. There is no suggestion that Lord Hurd or any other members of the board were aware of the alleged „black propaganda” campaign. (