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Telenor inches towards Myanmar exit with Wave Money deal

Telenor took a further step towards exiting its operations in Myanmar after the country's army coup in February 2021 placed the Norwegian telco in an almost impossible situation.

Telenor agreed to sell its 51% stake in Digital Money Myanmar, which markets mobile payments via Wave Money, for $53 million to a subsidiary of conglomerate Yoma Strategic.

Wave Money provides money transfer and digital payment solutions in Myanmar. The company was launched in November 2016 as a joint venture between Yoma Bank and Telenor Group.

Telenor said the agreement with Yoma Strategic "completes the divestment process announced in June 2020." It also noted that the transaction is subject to various conditions, among them regulatory approval from the Myanmar Central Bank.

In June 2020, Alibaba's fintech affiliate Ant Financial intended to invest $73.5 million for a minority stake in Wave, but the deal apparently never materialized after the Chinese tech giant backed off from its planned investment.

Telenor has already agreed to sell its main mobile operations under Telenor Myanmar to Lebanon's M1 Group for $105 million. However, the military junta indicated last year that it wanted a local company to be at least part-owner of the telco, if not owning a controlling share outright.

Tough decision

It's still not clear when the sale of Telenor Myanmar will be completed, although it is now classified as held for sale and discontinued operations on Telenor's balance sheet.

The agreement to sell Wave Money to Yoma Strategic could perhaps help pave the way to a full exit. Yoma Strategic is a listed subsidiary of Yoma Group, which is owned by Serge Pun, one of Myanmar's richest citizens.

Yoma Group has already been cited as a possible local partner for M1 for the acquisition of Telenor Myanmar. Another is the Shwe Byain Phyu Group, which sells petrol under an SBP Oil brand and also does some precious jewel mining.

One thing is for sure: Telenor has been placed between a rock and hard place when it comes to Myanmar. Many have called for the Norwegian telco to stay in the country due to its "demonstrated commitments to human rights, responsible business, and international best practices."

In September 2021, Telenor said its continued presence in Myanmar had become untenable due to the deteriorating human rights and security situation.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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