Sweden to look into possible sale of government's Telia stake

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A flag flutters at the Telia telecommunication company offices in Helsinki, Finland, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s parliament on Wednesday called on the government to look into how it could divest its $7.5 billion stake in telecoms firm Telia Company while protecting sensitive infrastructure owned by the firm from cyber breaches.

The country’s minority, center-left government has opposed a sale of the stake of 37 percent on national security concerns.

But opposition parties have pointed to a possible break-up of the company that would keep sensitive infrastructure units in the hands of the state.

“The state’s main task is not to own and run companies,” the Committee on Industry and Trade said in its proposal ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Fears have grown that telecoms infrastructure can be used as a means of eavesdropping on companies, individuals and governments and Sweden said last month it would tighten network security requirements ahead of the roll-out of 5G infrastructure.

Authorities in the United States have alleged equipment made by China’s Huawei Technologies could be exploited by Beijing for spying. The company denies this, but a number of countries have stopped operators using products from the Chinese firm in their networks.

The debate about whether the government should sell its Telia shares resurfaced after the firm announced in 2018 that it was buying Sweden’s Bonnier Broadcasting.

The deal is controversial as Bonnier’s TV4 is the country’s biggest commercial channel and competes with the state broadcaster SVT.

The Swedish state, which either owns or partly owns 47 companies in Sweden, sold 30 percent of Telia 19 years ago and listed the firm on the Stockholm stock exchange.

Reporting by Helena Soderpalm; editing by David Evans