Norwegian Telenor funded attempted political coup d’etat in Bangladesh


Telenor AASA, a Norwegian majority state-owned multinational telecommunications company headquartered at Fornebu in Bærum, which is known as world’s largest telecommunication companies with operations worldwide with special focus in Scandinavia and Asia holds 62 percent share in Grameen Phone, a GSM-based cellular operator in Bangladesh, which began journey on March 26, 1997, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus is a co-founder. Yunus’ controversial microcredit enterprise Grameen Bank holds 38 percent share in Grameen Phone. On November 16, 2006, Grameen Phone, which also is known as GP had formally changed its logo to match the logo of its parent company – Telenor.

Background of Grameen Phone

The idea of providing wider mobile phone access to rural areas was originally conceived by Iqbal Quadir, who is currently the founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT. He was inspired by the Grameen Bank microcredit model and envisioned a business model where a cell phone can serve as a source of income. After leaving his job as an investment banker in the United States, Quadir traveled back to Bangladesh, after meeting and successfully raising money from New York based investor and philanthropist Joshua Mailman, and worked for three years gaining support from various organizations including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and the Norwegian telephone company, Telenor. He was finally successful in forming a consortium with Telenor and Grameen Bank to establish Grameenphone. Quadir remained a shareholder of Grameenphone until 2004.

Grameenphone received a license for cellular phone operation in Bangladesh from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on November 28, 1996. Grameenphone started operations on March 26, 1997, the Independence Day in Bangladesh.

After Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, he claimed during his visit in Norway to receive the prize that Grameen Bank had a gentlemen’s agreement with Telenor where Telenor was to sell part of Grameen Phone to the bank. Telenor was not interested in fulfilling this agreement, arguing it was not juridically binding.

Grameen Phone (also known as GrameenPhone) had always boasted of being the largest taxpayer in Bangladesh. Later it was revealed that this partner organization of Norwegian Telenor has evaded taxes through clandestine and illegal activities.

In October, 2007 the government of Bangladesh fined GrameenPhone US$ 24.5 million for illegally depriving the government of revenue by ignoring laws requiring private operators to use the state-owned BTTB (Bangladesh Telegraph & Telephone Board) land phone network for international calls by its subscribers, when they used Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to receive such calls.

It soon emerged that GP was making a bigger business out of VoIP operations than initially stated. They were providing a host of ISPs and operators services that enabled VoIP.

In December 2007, law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh raided the corporate office of GrameenPhone in Dhaka and seized large volume of documents related to its illegal activities. This was in connection to GrameenPhone providing VoIP equipment and services to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) company named – AccessTel. But GrameenPhone did not disclose this fact. Instead they said: “some additional irregularities were found” regarding Grameenphone providing special services to illegal VoIP operators.

In January 2008, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) filed a case against GrameenPphone’s two former CEO’s and other officials for involvement in illegal VoIP business. Following this, Anders Jensen, chief executive officer of the Grameenphone in a written statement to the press said “We deeply regret that such unlawful practice was carried out and not disclosed earlier by Grameenphone. We have cooperated with BTRC in the investigations and the Grameenphone board also conducted an investigation by an external auditor to look into all aspects of our operations to ensure that we fully comply with all laws and regulations”.

The matter has also been admitted by Grameen Phone through a statement published on its website.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has fined Grameenphone BDT 25 billion (US$24.50 million) for illegal VoIP business, the second time the country’s largest mobile phone operator has been penalized for such rogue activities.

In 2022 BTRC fined Grameen Phone BDT 5 million for running illegal VoIP activities, proving the illegal practices of running VoIP business has not stopped.

In June 2022, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) banned Grameen Phone from selling SIMs due to failure to provide quality service.

Subrata Roy Maitra, vice-chairman of the BTRC told the media, “GP [Grameen Phone] has failed to ensure quality of service. The quality of internet and voice services provided by the operator is below standard. As a result, the customers are experiencing severe call drops and breaking ups of voice”.

Telenor made funny attempt to promote Muhammad Yunus

Back in 2006, when Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize, Norwegian telecom company Telenor spent millions of takas in buying time chunk on Channel-i, a satellite-based private television channel in Bangladesh to cover Yunus and his family members waving hands from the hotel balcony as he was greeted by dozens of locals chanting “Yunus! Yunus! Yunus!”. As the matter of extremely strange, later it was learnt, Telenor had forced its employees to gather in front of the hotel and help Yunus in this publicity stunt.

Similarly, Grameen Bank had also spent huge amount of money towards publicity of Muhammad Yunus.

Behind this publicity stunt, Muhammad Yunus had a secret agenda. With the active help of Hillary Clinton, he was willing to become head of the government in Bangladesh by floating a new political party named ‘Nagorik Shakti’ (People’s Power). Though top brasses of Telenor were aware of this secret agenda of Yunus, they had enthusiastically helped him by sending Telenor employees in front of the hotel and by spending millions of dollars towards massive campaign in Bangladesh thinking – this would help them in having their own partner heading the government in Bangladesh. In other words – Norwegian telecom giant Telenor attempted to seize power in Bangladesh through Muhammad Yunus by sending Sheikh Hasina, president of Awami League (AL) and Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) into exile, which can be deemed as participating in an attempt of coup d’etat against Bangladesh’s political landscape.

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Tajul Islam
Tajul Islam
Tajul Islam is a Special Correspondent of Blitz.

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