Dubai: Lebanese investment firm M1 Group pledged to spend $330 million over the next three years to expand the Myanmar telecom business after it’s buying from Norway’s Telenor ASA, bucking moves by many international investors to exit the Southeast Asian nation after the military seized power in February.
The funds will be used for network expansion, broadband infrastructure and services, M1 Group Chief Executive Officer Azmi T. Mikati said in an interview. The Telenor Myanmar sale was agreed to in July for $105 million. Pending regulatory approval, it will give the Beirut-based group control of one of four main telecom operators, with 19 million customers in a country with 55 million people.
“Rather than shying away from challenging environments, we are committed to supporting the people who live in them with world-class service, regardless of the political situation,” Mikati said. “Telecommunications is an essential service, especially in challenging circumstances.”
M1 Group is a holding company of the billionaire Mikati family, which includes Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate. It has investments in South Africa-listed telecom firm MTN Group Ltd., fashion retailer Pepe Jeans and property in New York, London, Dubai and Beirut, according to its website. It also holds a stake a telecom-tower operator in Myanmar.
“Willingness, or rather readiness, to work in some of the world’s most challenging markets today is part of our mission,” said Azmi Mikati, who will turn 50 next year.
Myanmar’s military toppled a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in February. The power seizure came as one of the region’s poorest nations was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. It shares borders with India, China, Thailand, Bangladesh and Laos.
“The situation in Myanmar has over the past months become increasingly challenging for Telenor for people security, regulatory and compliance reasons,” Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke said in a statement when the sale was announced. The Norwegian company in May declared its Myanmar unit, set up in 2014, “fully impaired” and wrote down 6.5 billion kroner ($750 million).