Dhaka Tribune | 16 January 2020
Telenor hopes to settle GP audit claim without int’l arbitration
Now that the February 23 deadline for the court directive to pay Tk2,000 crore audit dues to the telecom regulator looms, Telenor Group, the parent company of Grameenphone, hopes that the ongoing audit dispute can be settled without resorting to international arbitration.
Telenor Asia, however, in October last year sent a notice to the President Abdul Hamid seeking arbitration for the audit dispute after the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission demanded Tk12,579 crore following a audit in the company in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in November 24 last year asked GP to pay Tk2,000 crore within three months that scheduled to end on February 23.
In response to a query by Dhaka Tribune, the Telenor last Thursday said the group never sent legal notice to the President of Bangladesh, rather sent an invitation for arbitration as per a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) singed by the government of Singapore and the government of Bangladesh.
“Telenor Group has sent an invitation letter for dialogue, and not a legal notice. According to the treaty process such letters should be sent to Heads of State. We consider this to be a constructive first step towards finding an amicable solution,” says an email statement of Cathrine Stang Lund, Director Communications of Telenor Group Communications Asia.
In the statement, she said the process itself was governed by the treaty, and included a period of six months for discussions after initial invitation letter, before any further steps towards international arbitration was taken.
“It is Telenor Group’s position that we believe the disputed audit should be solved through dialogue, and that an amicable and transparent solution should be reached between the authorities of Bangladesh and Grameenphone. It remains our hope that this can be solved without international arbitration,” she added.
BTRC ran its first audit back in 2011 on GP and found financial discrepancies amounting to Tk3,034 crore in the operator’s books from its inception in 1996 till March 2011. Later BTRC following a court order conducted a second audit and come up with the latest claim in 2016.
Meanwhile, the country’s second largest mobile operator Robi Axiata on Tuesday paid Tk27.60 as the first installment of audit dues following a High Court order that asked the operator to pay Tk138 crore to the BTRC of the total Tk867.23 crore audit claim.
The notice served by Telenor to Bangladesh was based on a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) signed between the Bangladesh and Singapore countries in 2004 for the promotion and protection of investments. As Telenor Asia, which is the primary investor of GP and based in Singapore, it was able to send a notice under a BIT.
Both Bangladesh and Singapore are members of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which is an international arbitration institution established in 1966 for legal dispute resolution and conciliation between international investors.
The country has two precedents in ICSID cases where one went in favor of the country and the other against it.
Supreme Court lawyer Aneek R Haque told Dhaka Tribune that Telenor had no right to sent such a notice to the president.
“Telenor mentioned a BIT when it served the notice. But the fact is, it is not a party or signatory to the BIT. If the Singapore government would send the notice, it would have been valid. Telenor’s notice has no merit as far as the BIT is concerned,” he told Dhaka Tribune.