The Lebanese investment company M1 Group, which was founded by the Lebanese billionaire Najib Mikati and his brother Taha, bought Telenor’s subsidiary Telenor Myanmar last summer for NOK 900 million. The sale will only be formalized after regulatory approval by the authorities in Myanmar, which according to unconfirmed reports can take place as early as next week.
The sale has been very controversial in Norway and the rest of the world. Critics claim the M1 Group will be able to hand over sensitive personal information about Telenor Myanmar’s 18 million customers to the brutal military junta once the sale is completed.
Both the international and Norwegian press have conveyed hints that the M1 Group has loose links to the military regime – based on statements from, among others, a number of actors such as civil law organizations in Myanmar and human rights organizations.
– Groundless accusations
Now the M1 Group, which has been relatively tight-lipped during the sales process, is taking the magazine by the mouth and reaching out to the critics.
M1 Group contacted because Nettavisen described the investment company as a “controversial company” and wrote that the company “allegedly has close links to the coup plotters in Myanmar”.
The online newspaper has given M1 Group the opportunity to respond, and is printing it in its entirety.
– These are baseless accusations that can easily be repeated and reinforced in echo chambers. Despite the lack of factual basis, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, says the spokesperson for M1 Group in a written response to Nettavisen.
– Can M1 Group guarantee that the user data for Telenor Myanmar’s customers will not be handed over to the military or the authorities after the sale has been formalized and regulatory approved? asks Nettavisen.
– As you rightly point out, the decision on regulatory approval is still being considered. In general, the debate around data-related privacy and protection is of course global, and involves leading companies in the world in tech, media and telecommunications. M1 Group has never compromised on data security or monitoring requests (interception: user data such as storage, recording and tracking) in any of its operations, and is committed to fulfilling all its legal and ethical obligations to its tens of millions users around the world. The M1 will not facilitate illegal surveillance requests for anyone in any country, the spokesperson answers.
– Myanmar will comply with the laws of Myanmar in its provision of services to Myanmar customers. Both the Constitution of the Republic of Myanmar Union from 2008 (drafted by the Constitutional Assembly appointed by the military junta, editor’s note) and the law on protection of privacy and citizens’ security from March 8, 2017, lay down provisions for protection of privacy and security of communication, reads the answer to M1 Group .
The Burmese Committee in the UK placed the dollar billionaire Mikati and the M1 Group on their «dirty list»Already in 2019. This is a list of people and companies doing business with the violent generals in Myanmar. A UNreport from 2019 also linked M1 Group investments to the military in Myanmar.
– In terms of the UN’s independent international fact missions, M1’s stake in Irrawaddy Green Towers was an investment that would ensure that the country had sufficient infrastructure to meet the population’s needs for telecommunications in Myanmar. All telecommunications operators are dependent on telecommunication towers provided by a number of suppliers, some of which are owned and financed by international investors. These towers offer passive infrastructure to all mobile service providers in the country, to connect the population. It is worth noting that the International Financing Institute (IFC) also invested in the telecommunications tower company to which reference is made, as described in the report of the UN’s independent international fact missions, the spokesman said.
Present in authoritarian regimes
M1 Group has been a major mobile player in authoritarian regimes such as Yemen, Syria, Liberia and Sudan.
– M1 Group has decades of experience in providing important services to people in emerging economies around the world in difficult political situations. The M1 Group has always and will always remain committed to upholding human rights, respecting the laws of the country in which it operates, and at the same time promoting regulations in consumer rights, and especially in data security, data resilience, privacy, connectivity, roaming, internet access and more.
– As a responsible company, M1 Group will work tirelessly to promote the human rights of all its employees in Myanmar, and ensure that there is a healthy and safe working environment so that they can better serve their local communities.
– M1 Group’s readiness to work in some of the world’s most challenging markets remains an important part of M1 Group’s mission, and hence the company’s active presence in local communities where there is an urgent need for independent, reliable and proven telecom operators, reads the response.
Critical of sales
Aye Chan Naing is the editor-in-chief of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and co-founded the independent radio channel in 1992. The radio channel had to broadcast from Oslo until 2013 because the military junta ruled the country with a brutal iron hand.
Aye Chan Naing said the following about the Telenor sale of M1 Group to Nettavisen earlier this week:
– I can understand that Telenor feels that they have to leave the country due to pressure from the military to hand over data and information about customers, and that this is something that is contrary to Telenor’s standards and values. But what is the point of selling it to another company that is willing to pass on that information? It’s a tricky situation.
– Now all user data about the customers will be handed over to the military, regardless of whether the new owners have or do not have links to the military regime. They bought the company precisely because they live well by complying with the demands of the military, Aye Chan Naing said recently to The online newspaper.