Use these links to rapidly review the document
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
o REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ý ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934 FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2020
o TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
o SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Commission File Number: 1-34694
|(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)|
|(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)|
Claude Debussylaan 88, 1082 MD, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
|(Address of principal executive offices)|
Group General Counsel
Claude Debussylaan 88,1082 MD, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 797 7200
|(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)|
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
|Title of each class|
|Name of each exchange on which |
|American Depositary Shares, or ADSs,|
each representing one common share
| VEON||NASDAQ Global Select Market|
|Common shares, US$0.001 nominal value|| |
NASDAQ Global Select Market *
* Listed, not for trading or quotation purposes, but only in connection with the registration of ADSs pursuant to the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report: 1,756,731,135 common shares, US$0.001 nominal value.
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act:
Yes ý No o
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
Yes o No ý
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports) and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Yes ý No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Yes ý No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer or an emerging growth company. See definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act:
|Large accelerated filer||ý|
Accelerated filer o
Non-accelerated filer o
Emerging growth company o
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has fi led a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report. ý
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
U.S. GAAP o
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued by the
International Accounting Standards Board ý
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.
Item 17 o Item 18 o
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
Yes o No ý
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This Annual Report on Form 20-F includes audited consolidated financial statements as of and for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018 prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards, or “IFRS,” as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board, or “IASB,” and presented in U.S. dollars. VEON Ltd. adopted IFRS as of January 1, 2009. All references to our audited consolidated financial statements appearing in this Annual Report on Form 20-F are to the audited consolidated financial statements included in this Annual Report on Form 20-F (the “Audited Consolidated Financial Statements”).
References in this Annual Report on Form 20-F to “VEON” as well as references to “our company,” “the company,” “our group,” “the group,” “we,” “us,” “our” and similar pronouns, are references to VEON Ltd., an exempted company limited by shares registered in Bermuda, and its consolidated subsidiaries. References to VEON Ltd. are to VEON Ltd. alone.
All section references appearing in this Annual Report on Form 20-F are to sections of this Annual Report on Form 20-F, unless otherwise indicated.
Non-IFRS Financial Measures
Adjusted EBITDA is a non-IFRS financial measure. Adjusted EBITDA should not be considered in isolation or as a substitute for analyses of the results as reported under IFRS. We calculate Adjusted EBITDA as profit / (loss) before tax from continuing operations before tax before depreciation, amortization, loss from disposal of non-current assets and impairment loss, financial expenses and costs, net foreign exchange gain/(loss) and share of associates and joint ventures.
For a reconciliation of Adjusted EBITDA to profit / (loss) before tax, the most directly comparable IFRS financial measure, for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, see Note 2 — Segment Information to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Our management uses Adjusted EBITDA as a supplemental performance measure and believes that Adjusted EBITDA provides useful information to investors because it is an indicator of the strength and performance of our business operations, our ability to fund discretionary spending and our ability to incur and service debt. In addition, the components of Adjusted EBITDA include the key revenue and expense items for which our operating managers are responsible and upon which their performance is evaluated. However, a limitation of Adjusted EBITDA’s use as a performance measure is that it does not reflect the periodic costs of certain capitalized tangible and intangible assets used in generating revenue or the need to replace capital equipment over time.
Adjusted EBITDA also assists management and investors by increasing the comparability of our performance against the performance of other telecommunications companies that provide EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) or OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization) information. This increased comparability is achieved by excluding the potentially inconsistent effects between periods or companies of depreciation, amortization and impairment losses, which items may significantly affect operating profit between periods. However, our Adjusted EBITDA results may not be directly comparable to other companies’ reported EBITDA or OIBDA results due to variances and adjustments in the components of EBITDA (including our calculation of Adjusted EBITDA) or calculation measures.
Adjusted EBITDA Margin
Adjusted EBITDA Margin is a non-IFRS financial measure. Adjusted EBITDA Margin is calculated as Adjusted EBITDA divided by total operating revenue, expressed as a percentage. For a description of how we calculate Adjusted EBITDA and a discussion of its limitations in evaluating our performance, see “—Adjusted EBITDA”.
Local currency financial measures
In the discussion and analysis of our results of operations, we present certain financial measures in local currency terms. These non-IFRS financial measures present our results of operations in local currency amounts and thus exclude the impact of translating such local currency amounts to U.S. dollars, our reporting currency. We analyze the performance of our reportable segments on a local currency basis to increase the comparability of results between periods. Our management believes that evaluating their performance on a local currency basis provides an additional and meaningful assessment of
performance to our management and to investors. For information regarding our translation of foreign currency-denominated amounts into U.S. dollars, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Factors Affecting Comparability and Results of Operations — Foreign Currency Translation, Item 11 — Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk and Note 17 — Financial Risk Management to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Capital expenditures excluding licenses and right-of-use assets
In this Annual Report on Form 20-F, we present capital expenditures, which include equipment, new construction, upgrades, software, other long-lived assets and related reasonable costs incurred prior to intended use of the non-current assets, accounted for at the earliest event of advance payment or delivery and excludes both expenditures directly related to acquiring telecommunication licenses and the recognition of right-of-use assets. Long-lived assets acquired in business combinations are not included in capital expenditures. For the periods beginning after December 31, 2018, right-of-use (ROU) assets are not included in capital expenditures, following the adoption of IFRS 16 on January 1, 2019. For more information on our capital expenditures, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Liquidity and Capital Resources — Future Liquidity and Capital Requirements and Note 2 — Segment Information to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Net Debt is a non-IFRS financial measure and is calculated as the sum of interest bearing long-term notional debt and short-term notional debt minus cash and cash equivalents, long-term and short-term deposits. The company believes that Net Debt provides useful information to investors because it shows the amount of notional debt outstanding to be paid after using available cash and cash equivalents and long-term and short-term deposits. Net Debt should not be considered in isolation as an alternative to long-term debt and short-term debt, or any other measure of the Company financial position.
Certain Performance Indicators
In this Annual Report on Form 20-F, we present certain operating data, including number of mobile customers, mobile ARPU and number of mobile data customers, which our management believes is useful in evaluating our performance from period to period and in assessing the usage and acceptance of our mobile and broadband products and services. These operating metrics are not included in our financial statements. For more information on each of these metrics, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Certain Performance Indicators.
Market and Industry Data
This Annual Report on Form 20-F contains industry, market and competitive position data that are based on the industry publications and studies conducted by third parties noted herein and therein, as well as our own internal estimates and research. These industry publications and third-party studies generally state that the information that they contain has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, although they do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information. While we believe that each of these publications and third-party studies is reliable, we have not independently verified the market and industry data obtained from these third-party sources. We also believe our internal research is reliable and the definition of our market and industry are appropriate, but neither such research nor these definitions have been verified by any independent source.
Certain market and industry data in this Annual Report on Form 20-F is sourced from the report of Omdia, dated March 4, 2021. Mobile penetration rate is defined as mobile connections divided by population. Population figures for the mobile penetration rates provided by Omdia are sourced from the United Nations. Mobile connections are on a three-month active basis such that any SIM card that has not been used for more than three months is excluded. Other market and industry data has been sourced from cited governmental bodies.
Glossary of Telecommunications Terms
The discussion of our business and the telecommunications industry in this Annual Report on Form 20-F contains references to certain terms specific to our business, including numerous technical and industry terms. Such terms are defined in “Exhibit 99.1-Glossary of Telecommunications Terms.”
We have proprietary rights to trademarks used in this Annual Report on Form 20-F which are important to our business, many of which are registered under applicable intellectual property laws. Solely for convenience, trademarks and trade names referred to in this Annual Report on Form 20-F may appear without the “®” or “TM” symbols, but such references are not intended to indicate, in any way, that we will not assert, to the fullest extent possible under applicable law, our rights or the rights of the applicable licensor to these trademarks and trade names. We do not intend our use or display of other companies’ trade names, trademarks or service marks to imply a relationship with, or endorsement or sponsorship of us by, any other companies. Each trademark, trade name or service mark of any other company appearing in this Annual Report on Form 20-F is the property of its respective holder.
In this Annual Report on Form 20-F, references to (i) “U.S. dollars”, USD and “US$” are to the lawful currency of the United States of America, (ii) “Russian rubles” or “RUB” are to the lawful currency of the Russian Federation, (iii) “Pakistani rupees” or “PKR” are to the lawful currency of Pakistan, (iv) “Algerian dinar” or “DZD” are to the lawful currency of Algeria, (v) “Bangladeshi taka” or “BDT” are to the lawful currency of Bangladesh, (vi) “Ukrainian hryvnia” or “UAH” are to the lawful currency of Ukraine, (vii) “Uzbekistani som” or “UZS” are to the lawful currency of Uzbekistan, (viii) “Kazakh tenge” is to the lawful currency of the Republic of Kazakhstan and (viii) “€,” “EUR” or “euro” are to the single currency of the participating member states of the European and Monetary Union of the Treaty Establishing the European Community, as amended from time to time. In addition, references to “EU” are to the European Union, references to “LIBOR” are to the London Interbank Offered Rate, references to “EURIBOR” are to the Euro Interbank Offered Rate and references to “KIBOR” are to the Karachi Interbank Offered Rate.
This Annual Report on Form 20-F contains translations of certain non-U.S. currency amounts into U.S. dollars at specified rates solely for the convenience of the reader. These translations should not be construed as representations that the relevant non-U.S. currency amounts actually represent such U.S. dollar amounts or could be converted, were converted or will be converted into U.S. dollars at the rates indicated. Unless otherwise indicated, U.S. dollar amounts have been translated from euro, Pakistani rupee, Algerian dinar and Bangladeshi taka amounts at the exchange rates provided by Bloomberg Finance L.P. and from Russian ruble, Ukrainian hryvnia, Kazakh tenge and Uzbekistani som amounts at official exchange rates, as described in more detail in Item 5 - Operating and Financial Review and Prospects - Factors Affecting Comparability and Results of Operations - Foreign Currency Translation, Item 11 - Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk and Note 17 - Financial Risk Management to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Certain amounts and percentages that appear in this Annual Report on Form 20-F have been subject to rounding adjustments. As a result, certain numerical figures shown as totals, including in tables, may not be exact arithmetic aggregations of the figures that precede or follow them.
CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This Annual Report on Form 20-F contains estimates and forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”) and Section 21E of the U.S. Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). Our estimates and forward-looking statements are mainly based on our current expectations and estimates of future events and trends, which affect or may affect our businesses and operations. Although we believe that these estimates and forward-looking statements are based upon reasonable assumptions, they are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties and are made in light of information currently available to us. Many important factors, in addition to the factors described in this Annual Report on Form 20-F, may adversely affect our results as indicated in forward-looking statements. You should read this Annual Report on Form 20-F completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different and worse from what we expect.
All statements other than statements of historical fact are forward-looking statements. The words “may,” “might,” “will,” “could,” “would,” “should,” “expect,” “plan,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “seek,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “potential,” “continue,” “contemplate,” “possible” and similar words are intended to identify estimates and forward-looking statements.
Our estimates and forward-looking statements may be influenced by various factors, including, without limitation:
•our ability to implement and execute our strategic priorities successfully and to achieve the expected benefits from, our existing and future transactions;
•our assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations and financial condition;
•our targets and strategic initiatives in the various countries in which we operate;
•our ability to develop new revenue streams and achieve portfolio and asset optimizations, improve customer experience and optimize our capital structure;
•our ability to generate sufficient cash flow to meet our debt service obligations, our expectations regarding working capital and the repayment of our debt and our projected capital requirements;
•our plans regarding our dividend payments and policies, as well as our ability to receive dividends, distributions, loans, transfers or other payments or guarantees from our subsidiaries;
•our expectations regarding our capital and operational expenditures in and after 2021;
•our goals regarding value, experience and service for our customers, as well as our ability to retain and attract customers and to maintain and expand our market share positions;
•our plans to develop, provide and expand our products and services, including operational and network development, optimization and investment, such as expectations regarding the expansion or roll-out and benefits of 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G networks or other networks, broadband services and integrated products and services, such as fixed-mobile convergence, and digital services in the areas of financial technology, digital advertising and entertainment;
•our expectations as to pricing for our products and services in the future, improving our ARPU and our future costs and operating results;
•our ability to meet license requirements, to obtain, maintain, renew or extend licenses, frequency allocations and frequency channels and to obtain related regulatory approvals;
•our plans regarding marketing and distribution of our products and services, including customer loyalty programs;
•our expectations regarding our competitive strengths, customer demands, market trends and future developments in the industry and markets in which we operate;
•our expectations regarding management changes; and
•other statements regarding matters that are not historical facts.
These statements are management’s best assessment of our strategic and financial position and of future market conditions, trends and other potential developments. While they are based on sources believed to be reliable and on our management’s current knowledge and best belief, they are merely estimates or predictions and cannot be relied upon. We cannot assure you that future results will be achieved.
Under no circumstances should the inclusion of such forward-looking statements in this Annual Report on Form 20-F be regarded as a representation or warranty by us or any other person with respect to the achievement of results set out in such statements or that the underlying assumptions used will in fact be the case. Therefore, you are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements included in this Annual Report on Form 20-F are made only as of the date of this Annual Report on Form 20-F. We cannot assure you that any projected results or events will be achieved. Except to the extent required by law, we disclaim any obligation to update or revise any of these forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISORS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
A. Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated financial data as of and for each of the five years ended December 31, 2020, has been derived from our historical consolidated financial statements, which as of and for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 have been audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers Accountants N.V., an independent registered public accounting firm. The data should be read in conjunction with our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements and related Notes and the financial information in Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects.
Consolidated income statement data
|Year ended December 31,|
|2020 ||2019 ||2018||2017 ||2016 |
|Service revenues||7,471 ||8,240 ||8,526 ||9,105 ||8,553 |
|Sale of equipment and accessories||392 ||465 ||427 ||244 ||184 |
|Other revenues / other income||117 ||158 ||133 ||125 ||148 |
|Total operating revenues||7,980 ||8,863 ||9,086 ||9,474 ||8,885 |
|Other operating income||5 ||350 ||— ||— ||— |
|Cost of equipment and accessories||(382)||(479)||(415)||(260)||(216)|
|Selling, general and administrative expenses||(2,641)||(2,965)||(3,697)||(3,748)||(3,668)|
|Impairment (loss) / reversal||(785)||(108)||(858)||(66)||(192)|
|Gain / (loss) on disposal of non-current assets||(37)||(43)||(57)||(26)||(20)|
|Gain / (loss) on disposal of subsidiaries||(78)||1 ||30 ||— ||— |
|Operating profit||635 ||2,019 ||554 ||1,467 ||1,084 |
|Finance income||23 ||53 ||67 ||95 ||69 |
|Other non-operating gain / (loss)||111 ||21 ||(68)||(97)||(82)|
|Share of profit / (loss) of joint ventures and associates||— ||— ||— ||(22)||(11)|
|Impairment of joint ventures and associates||— ||— ||— ||(110)||(99)|
|Net foreign exchange gain / (loss)||(60)||(20)||15 ||(70)||157 |
|Profit / (loss) before tax from continuing operations||26 ||1,181 ||(248)||328 ||288 |
|Income tax expense||(342)||(498)||(369)||(472)||(635)|
|Profit / (loss) from continuing operations||(316)||683 ||(617)||(144)||(347)|
|Profit / (loss) after tax from discontinued operations||— ||— ||(300)||(390)||979 |
|Gain / (loss) on disposal of discontinued operations||— ||— ||1,279 ||— ||1,788 |
|Profit / (loss) for the period||(316)||683 ||362 ||(534)||2,420 |
|The owners of the parent (continuing operations)||(349)||621 ||(397)||(115)||(439)|
|The owners of the parent (discontinued operations)||— ||— ||979 ||(390)||2,767 |
|Non-controlling interest||33 ||62 ||(220)||(29)||92 |
|(316)||683 ||362 ||(534)||2,420 |
|Basic and diluted gain / (loss) per share attributable to ordinary equity holders of the parent:|
|From continuing operations||$||(0.20)||$||0.36 ||$||(0.23)||$||(0.07)||$||(0.25)|
|From discontinued operations||$||— ||$||— ||$||0.56 ||$||(0.22)||$||1.58 |
|Total||$||(0.20)||$||0.36 ||$||0.33 ||$||(0.29)||$||1.33 |
| ||As of December 31,|
|(in millions of U.S. dollars)|
|Consolidated balance sheet data:|
|Cash and cash equivalents||1,594 ||1,250 ||1,808 ||1,314 ||2,942 |
Working capital (deficit)(1)
|Property and equipment, net||6,879 ||7,340 ||4,932 ||6,237 ||6,719 |
|Intangible assets and goodwill||4,152 ||5,688 ||5,670 ||6,786 ||6,953 |
|Total assets||14,551 ||16,059 ||14,102 ||19,484 ||21,193 |
|Total liabilities||13,538 ||13,839 ||11,323 ||15,594 ||15,150 |
|Total equity||1,013 ||2,220 ||2,779 ||3,890 ||6,043 |
(1) Working capital (deficit) is calculated as current assets less current liabilities and is equivalent to net current assets.
SELECTED OPERATING DATA
The following selected company operating data as of and for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 has been derived from internal company sources. The selected company operating data set forth below should be read in conjunction with our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements and their related Notes. For information on how we calculate mobile customers, mobile data customers, and mobile ARPU, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Certain Performance Indicators.
|As of and for the year ended December 31,|
|2020 ||2019 ||2018 ||2017 ||2016 |
|Mobile customers in millions|
|Russia||49.9 ||54.6 ||55.3 ||58.2 ||58.3 |
|Pakistan||66.4 ||60.5 ||56.2 ||53.6 ||51.6 |
|Ukraine||25.9 ||26.2 ||26.4 ||26.5 ||26.1 |
|Kazakhstan||9.5 ||10.2 ||9.9 ||9.8 ||9 |
|Uzbekistan||6.8 ||8.1 ||9.1 ||9.7 ||9.5 |
|Algeria||14.1 ||14.6 ||15.8 ||15 ||16.3 |
|Bangladesh||33.2 ||33.6 ||32.3 ||31.3 ||30.4 |
|Mobile data customers in millions|
|Russia||32.9 ||35.5 ||36.8 ||38.4 ||36.6 |
|Pakistan||44 ||38.8 ||33 ||28.5 ||25.1 |
|Ukraine||17.1 ||16.9 ||14.8 ||12.5 ||11.2 |
|Kazakhstan||7.2 ||6.9 ||6.3 ||5.7 ||4.9 |
|Uzbekistan||4.8 ||5.2 ||5.5 ||5 ||4.6 |
|Algeria||9.2 ||8.8 ||9.2 ||7.2 ||7 |
|Bangladesh||19.9 ||18.9 ||19.6 ||16.9 ||14.9 |
|Mobile ARPU (in U.S. dollars)|
|Russia||4.6 ||5.3 ||5.4 ||5.5 ||4.6 |
|Pakistan||1.5 ||1.7 ||2.1 ||2.2 ||2.3 |
|Ukraine||2.8 ||2.6 ||2 ||1.8 ||1.7 |
|Kazakhstan||3.3 ||3.1 ||3 ||3 ||2.7 |
|Uzbekistan||2.2 ||2.4 ||2.8 ||4.4 ||5.6 |
|Algeria||4.0 ||4.2 ||4.3 ||4.8 ||5.1 |
|Bangladesh||1.3 ||1.3 ||1.3 ||1.5 ||1.6 |
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we face. Any of the following risks could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations. Additional risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or those we currently view to be immaterial may also materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations. In addition, you should consider the interrelationship and compounding effects of two or more risks occurring simultaneously.
Risk Factor Summary
The following summarizes the principal risks that could adversely affect our business, operations and financial results. Before purchasing our American Depositary Shares (“ADSs”), you should carefully consider all of the information set forth in this Annual Report on Form 20-F including, but not limited to, these risks. In addition to those risk factors, there may be additional risks and uncertainties of which management is not aware or focused on or that management currently deems immaterial. Our business, financial condition or results of operations or prospects could be materially adversely affected by any of these risks, causing the trading price of our securities to decline and you to lose all or part of your investment.
•risks relating to changes in political, economic and social conditions in each of the countries in which we operate and where laws are applicable to us (including as a result of armed conflict) such as any harm, reputational or otherwise, that may arise due to changing social norms, our business involvement in a particular jurisdiction or an otherwise unforeseen development in science or technology;
•in each of the countries in which we operate and where laws are applicable to us, risks relating to legislation, regulation, taxation and currency, including costs of compliance, currency and exchange controls, currency fluctuations, and abrupt changes to laws, regulations, decrees and decisions governing the telecommunications industry and taxation, laws on foreign investment, anti-corruption and anti-terror laws, economic sanctions, data privacy, anti-money laundering, antitrust, national security and lawful interception and their official interpretation by governmental and other regulatory bodies and courts;
•risks related to the impact of export controls, sanctions, international trade regulation, customs and technology regulation, on our ability, and the ability of important third-party suppliers to procure goods, software or technology necessary to provide services to our customers, particularly services related to the production and delivery of supplies, support services, software, and equipment sourced from these suppliers – for example, between April and July 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) imposed a Denial Order against ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”) under the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) which prohibited transactions with ZTE during this time that involved goods, software or technology subject to the EAR and could have led to service degradation and disruption in certain markets, and in May and August 2019, and August 2020, BIS added Huawei Technologies Company Ltd. and 152 of its affiliates (collectively, “Huawei”) to its “Entity List”, which prohibits companies globally from directly or indirectly exporting, reexporting or in-country transferring goods, software, and technology that is subject to the EAR to Huawei and from procuring such items from Huawei when they have reason to know of any underlying U.S. export control violations in connection with those items;
•risks related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, such as adverse impacts on our financial performance resulting from lockdown restrictions, changes in customer trends and the broader macroeconomic impact of the pandemic on our countries of operation;
•risks relating to a failure to meet expectations regarding various strategic initiatives, including, but not limited to, changes to our portfolio of operating companies, product and technology offerings, development of networks and customer services;
•risks related to solvency and other cash flow issues, including our ability to raise the necessary additional capital and incur additional indebtedness, the ability of our subsidiaries to make dividend payments, our ability to develop additional sources of revenue and unforeseen disruptions in our revenue streams;
•risks that the adjudications by the various regulatory agencies or other parties with whom we are involved in legal challenges, license and regulatory disputes, tax disputes or appeals may not result in a final resolution in our favor or that we are unsuccessful in our defense of material litigation claims or are unable to settle such claims;
•risks relating to our company and its operations in each of the countries in which we operate and where laws are applicable to us, including demand for and market acceptance of our products and services, regulatory uncertainty regarding our licenses, frequency allocations and numbering capacity, constraints on our spectrum capacity, access to additional bands of spectrum required to meet demand for existing products and service offerings or additional spectrum required from new products and services and new technologies, availability of line capacity, fiber capacity, international gateway access, intellectual property rights protection, labor issues, interconnection agreements, equipment failures and competitive product and pricing pressures;
•risks related to developments from competition, unforeseen or otherwise, in each of the countries in which we operate and where laws are applicable to us, including our ability to keep pace with technological changes and evolving industry standards;
•risks related to the activities of our strategic shareholders, lenders, employees, joint venture partners, representatives, agents, suppliers, customers and other third parties;
•risks associated with our existing and future transactions, including with respect to realizing the expected synergies of closed transactions, satisfying closing conditions for new transactions, obtaining regulatory approvals, implementing remedies, and assuming related liabilities;
•risks associated with data protection, data breaches, cyber-attacks or systems and network disruptions, or the perception of such attacks or failures in each of the countries in which we operate, including the costs associated with such events and the reputational harm that could arise therefrom;
•risks related to the ownership of our ADSs, including those associated with VEON Ltd.’s status as a Bermuda company and a foreign private issuer; and
•other risks and uncertainties as set forth in Item 3D. Risk Factors.
For a more complete discussion of the material risks facing our business, see below.
We are exposed to foreign currency exchange loss and currency fluctuation and translation risks.
A significant amount of our costs, expenditures and liabilities, including capital expenditures and borrowings, is denominated in U.S. dollars and Russian rubles, while a proportion of our revenue is denominated in currencies other than U.S. dollars and Russian rubles. Thus, declining values of local currencies against the U.S. dollar could make it more difficult for us to repay or refinance our debt, make dividend payments, comply with covenants under our debt agreements or purchase equipment or services denominated in U.S. dollars, and may also impact our ability to support one jurisdiction with reserves from another jurisdiction. For example, the values of the Russian, Algerian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Kazakh currencies have experienced significant volatility in recent years in response to certain political and economic issues, and may continue to decline.
Our existing and future hedging strategies may not adequately protect us from exchange rate risks. Our operating metrics, debt coverage metrics, as well as the value of our investments in U.S. dollar terms have been negatively impacted in recent years by foreign currency transactions and translations. Such future currency fluctuations and volatility may result in additional losses or otherwise negatively impact our results of operations despite our ongoing efforts to better match the currency mix of our debt and derivatives with the currencies of our operations.
Our hedging strategies may further prove ineffective if, for example, exchange rates fluctuate in response to legislative or regulatory action by a government with respect to its currency, which could lead to adverse developments that harm our business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects. In addition, the countries in which we operate have historically experienced periods of high levels of inflation, including certain cases of hyperinflation. Our profit margins could be harmed if we are unable to sufficiently increase our prices to offset any significant future increase in the inflation rate, which may be difficult with our mass market and price-sensitive customer base. For more information about foreign currency translation and
associated risks, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects, Item 11 — Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk and Note 17 — Financial Risk Management to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
We may be unable to develop additional revenue market share in markets where the potential for additional growth of our customer base is limited and customers may demand new services, technologies and increased access, which may require significant capital expenditures.
Increasing competition, market saturation and technological development have led to the increased importance of data services and access to next generation technologies such as 4G/LTE in the markets in which we operate, including Russia, Commonwealth of Independent States (“CIS”) countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the provision of such technologies and services requires significant capital investment in spectrum and network presenting a risk that we cannot keep up with the demands of our customers. The mobile markets in Russia, Algeria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia have each reached mobile penetration rates exceeding 100%, according to Omdia and publicly available government sources. As a result, we have become increasingly focused on revenue market share growth in each of these markets. The key components of this strategy are to increase data usage and improve customer loyalty. However, we cannot guarantee that these initiatives will be successful, particularly in markets where the potential for additional growth of our customer base is limited. Failure to develop additional revenue market share could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For more information on the competition we face in our markets, see “— We operate in highly competitive markets, which we expect to only become more competitive, and as a result may have difficulty expanding our customer base or retaining existing customers.” For more information on our growth strategy, see Item 4 — Information on the Company.
Our revenue is often unpredictable, and our revenue sources are short-term in nature.
Our primary source of revenue comes from prepaid mobile customers whom we do not require to enter into long-term contracts. Therefore, we cannot be certain these customers will continue to use our services in the future. Revenue from postpaid mobile customers represents a small percentage of our total operating revenue and the contracts that are required to be signed by such customers can be canceled with limited advance notice and without significant penalty. Because we incur costs based on our expectations of future revenue, the sudden loss of a large number of customers or a failure to accurately predict revenue could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For example, following the outbreak of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions imposed across our countries of operations, our revenue projections were frustrated as material disruption to our retail operations resulted in store closures, impacting gross connections and airtime sales. Restrictions on travel resulted in a significant decline in roaming revenues and the loss of migrant customers from our subscriber base, particularly in Russia. The impact of such was only partially offset by increases in fixed line revenue, as lockdowns encouraged home working and schooling. For a description of the key trends and developments with respect to our business, including further discussion of the impact of COVID-19 on our operations and financial performance, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Key Developments During 2020.
We operate in highly competitive markets, which we expect only to become more competitive, and as a result may have difficulty expanding our customer base or retaining existing customers.
The markets in which we operate are highly competitive in nature, and we expect that competition will continue to increase. Our financial performance has been and will continue to be significantly determined by our success in adding, retaining and engaging our customers. As penetration rates increase in the markets in which we operate, we may have difficulty expanding our customer base. If customers find our connectivity and internet services not to be valuable, reliable or trustworthy or otherwise believe competitors in our markets can offer better services, we may have difficulty retaining customers. In addition, as new players enter our markets or existing competitors combine operations, maintaining our market positions will become even more difficult. For more information on the competition in our markets, see Item 4.B — Business Overview.
Each of the items discussed immediately below regarding increased competition could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects:
•we cannot assure you that our revenue will grow in the future, as competition puts pressure on prices;
•with the increasing pace of technological developments, including new digital technologies and regulatory changes impacting our industry, we cannot predict with certainty future business drivers and we cannot assure you that we will adapt to these changes at a competitive pace;
•we may be forced to utilize more aggressive marketing schemes to retain existing customers and attract new ones that may include lower tariffs, handset subsidies or increased dealer commissions;
•in more mature or saturated markets, there are limits on the extent to which we can continue to grow our customer base, and the continued growth of our business and results of operations will depend, in part, on our ability to extract greater revenue from our existing customers, including through the expansion of data services and the introduction of next generation technologies, which may prove difficult to accomplish;
•we may be unable to deliver better customer experience relative to our competitors or our competitors may reach customers more effectively through better use of digital and physical distribution channels, which may negatively impact our revenue and market share;
•as we expand the scope of our services, such as new networks, fixed-line residential and commercial broadband, Mobile Financial Services ("MFS") and Digital Financial Services ("DFS") offerings, streaming content and other services, we may encounter a greater number of competitors that provide similar services;
•the liberalization of the regulations in certain markets in which we operate could greatly increase competition;
•competitors may operate more cost-effectively or have other competitive advantages such as greater financial resources, market presence and network coverage, stronger brand name recognition, higher customer loyalty and goodwill, and more control over domestic transmission lines;
•competitors, particularly current and former state-controlled telecommunications service providers, may receive preferential treatment from the regulatory authorities and benefit from the resources of their shareholders;
•current or future relationships among our competitors and third parties may restrict our access to critical systems and resources;
•new competitors or alliances among competitors could rapidly acquire significant market share, and we may not be able to form similar relationships to capitalize on such opportunities;
•reduced demand for our core services of voice, messaging and data and the development of services by application developers (commonly referred to as OTT players) could significantly impact our future profitability;
•competition from OTT players offering similar functionality to us may increase, including digital providers offering VOIP calling, internet messaging and other digital services which compete with our telecommunications services; further our competitors may partner with such OTT players to provide integrated customer experiences, and we may be unable to implement offers, products and technology to compete with the offerings of our telecommunications competitors or to support our commercial partnerships; and
•our existing service offerings could become disadvantaged as compared to those offered by competitors who can offer bundled combinations of fixed-line, broadband, public Wi-Fi, TV and mobile.
We may be unable to keep pace with technological changes and evolving industry standards, which could harm our competitive position and, in turn, materially harm our business.
The telecommunications industry is characterized by rapidly evolving technology, industry standards and service demands, which may vary by country or geographic region. Accordingly, our future success will depend on our ability to adapt to the changing technological landscape and the regulation of standards utilizing these technologies. It is possible that the technologies or equipment we utilize today will become obsolete or subject to competition from new technologies in the future for which we may be unable to obtain the appropriate license in a timely manner or at all. We may not be able to meet all of these challenges in a timely and cost-effective manner.
For example, with respect to our mobile services, while we continue deploying mobile networks such as 4G/LTE, in some markets the industry is already well advanced in planning for the future deployment of 5G, which is expected to drive continued demand for data in the future. If our licenses and spectrum are not appropriate or sufficient to address changing technology, we may require additional or supplemental licenses and spectrum to implement 5G technology or to upgrade our existing 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE networks to remain competitive, and we may be unable to acquire such licenses and spectrum on reasonable terms or at all. We may need to incur significant capital expenditures to acquire licenses, spectrum or infrastructure to offer new services to our customers or improve our current services. In particular, the introduction of 5G services into our markets may draw additional entrants and require infrastructure capital expenditures for providers seeking to gain or maintain a competitive advantage. As new technologies are developed or upgraded, such as advanced 5G systems and next generation technologies, our equipment may need to be replaced or upgraded or we may need to rebuild our mobile network, in whole or in
part. Technological change is also impacting the capabilities of the equipment our customers use, such as mobile handsets, and potential changes in this area may impact demand for our services in the future. Implementing new technologies requires substantial investment. However, there can be no guarantee that we will generate our expected return on any such investments.
If we experience substantial problems keeping pace with technological changes and evolving industry standards, it may impair our success with the provision of related services, increase our costs or delay or decrease revenue and profits and therefore hinder recovery of any significant capital investments in such services, as well as our growth.
The international economic environment could cause our business to decline.
Our operations are subject to macro-economic and political risks that are outside of our control. The current macro-economic environment is volatile, and recent levels of instability in global markets has contributed to the challenging global economic environment in which we operate. As future developments are dependent upon a number of political and economic factors, we cannot accurately predict how long challenging conditions will exist or the extent to which the markets in which we operate may deteriorate. Unfavorable economic conditions may impact a significant number of our current and potential customers’ spending patterns, in terms of both the products they subscribe for and usage levels. As a result, it may be more difficult for us to attract new customers, more likely that customers will downgrade or disconnect their services and more difficult for us to maintain ARPUs at existing levels. A difficult international economic environment and any future downturns in the economies of markets in which we operate or may operate in the future, or such downturns in the international economic environment in general could also increase our costs (for example, by precipitating higher levels of taxation), prevent us from executing our strategies, hurt our liquidity, or impair our ability to take advantage of future opportunities, to respond to competitive pressures, to refinance existing indebtedness or to meet unexpected financial requirements, all of which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
Our financial performance may be affected by ongoing issues in the European Union relating to risks of deflation, sovereign debt levels, the suitability and stability of the euro, including the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Our financial performance may be affected by ongoing issues in the European Union relating to risks of deflation, sovereign debt levels, the suitability and stability of the euro, including the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union following the expiry of the transition period on December 31, 2020.
As a result of the coronavirus or other similar outbreaks or adverse public health developments, our operations, and those of our customers and suppliers, may experience delays or disruptions, such as difficulty obtaining components and temporary suspension of operations. In addition, our financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that coronavirus or any other epidemic or outbreak harms the economies in which we operate. Any of the foregoing could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, share price and cost of capital.
Our financial performance has also been affected since the COVID-19 outbreak and the restrictions imposed by governments across our countries of operation. Following the introduction of lockdown measures, we saw a significant impact on roaming revenues which largely disappeared in the second quarter of 2020, while the travel restrictions further saw a market reduction in the migrant workforce which is traditionally a source of a large subscriber base in Russia. Network traffic patterns were also impacted as people worked from home, and this required some adjustments to our network deployment plans. As a result of the continued outbreak of COVID-19 and restrictions imposed in our countries of operation, or other similar outbreaks or adverse public health developments, our operations, and those of our customers and suppliers, may experience delays or disruptions, such as difficulty obtaining components and temporary suspension of operations, and our financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
International economic sanctions and export controls may also adversely affect our ability to operate. In anticipation of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom created a new sanctions enforcement agency, the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”). In October 2019, OFSI announced a fine against a telecommunications carrier for violations of U.K. sanctions. Also, in the U.S., Congress enacted the Export Controls Act of 2018 (“ECA”) which aims to enhance protection of U.S. technology resources by imposing greater restrictions on the transfer to non-U.S. individuals and companies, particularly through exports to China, of certain key foundational and emerging technologies and cyber-security considered critical to U.S. national security. In recent months, the Department of Commerce has also broadened the scope of U.S. export controls measures to protect a wider range of national security interests, including telecommunications technology, against perceived challenges presented by China.
In Russia, the impact of economic sanctions and the significant devaluation of the Russian ruble have negatively impacted the Russian economy and economic outlook, and may also negatively impact our ability to raise external financing. Our operations may also be adversely affected by potential future sanctions by the United States targeting Russia, fueled by
broader foreign policy considerations. Throughout 2020, the United States launched stronger sanctions against Russia designed to address increased tensions in foreign conflicts (e.g., in Syria and Venezuela), proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, tensions related to alleged election interference and Russia’s impact on European energy security. The United States included sanctions from the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), which threatens asset freezes against companies involved in building the Russian natural gas pipelines to Europe: North Stream 2 and TurkStream. In addition, the U.S. Congress has considered passing new laws that would impose sanctions on a range of Russian persons and entities, including banks, energy companies, defense companies and entities in the intelligence sector, state-owned enterprises, Russian energy projects and sovereign debt, oligarchs, and senior government officials. We could be materially adversely impacted by the imposition of further sanctions. Further confrontation in Ukraine and any escalation of tensions between Russia and the United States and/or the European Union related to the imposition of further sanctions, or continued uncertainty regarding the scope thereof, could have a prolonged adverse impact on the Russian economy. These impacts could be more severe than those experienced to date. In particular, should either the United States or the European Union expand their respective sanctions to include our suppliers or other counterparties, such an expansion could result in substantial legal and other compliance costs and risks on our business operations and could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects. If further restrictions are levied on Russian banks, our existing and future Russian ruble loans could be blocked both in relation to our ability to draw them and our ability to service them and may require a change in our repayment terms. The sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in connection with the Ukraine crisis so far have had an adverse effect on the Russian economy. Tensions between Russia, the European Union and the United States have further increased recently, and there can be no assurance that the governments of the European Union and United States or other countries will not impose further sanctions on Russia. For more on sanctions affecting Russia and how they may affect our operations, see Geopolitical Risks - “Our operations may be adversely affected by ongoing developments in Russia and Ukraine” and Exhibit 99.2 - Regulation of Telecommunications - Sanctions Regimes.
Deterioration of macro-economic conditions in the countries in which we operate may also have certain accounting ramifications. A significant difference between the actual performance of our operating companies and the forecasted projections for revenue, Adjusted EBITDA or CAPEX could require us to write down the value of the goodwill, particularly in Russia and Algeria which have significant goodwill balances. In addition, the possible consequences of a financial and economic crisis related to, in particular, customer behavior, the reactions of our competitors in terms of offers and pricing or their responses to new entrants, regulatory adjustments in relation to reductions in consumer prices and our ability to adjust costs and investments in keeping with possible changes in revenue, may also adversely affect our forecasts and lead to a write-down of tangible and intangible assets, including goodwill. Also, significant adverse developments in our share price, and the resulting decrease in our market capitalization may also adversely impact our accounting presentation and lead to a write-down to our goodwill balances.
A write-down recorded for tangible and intangible assets resulting in a lowering of their book values could impact certain covenants and provisions under our debt agreements, which could result in a deterioration of our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.
For further information on the impairment of tangible and intangible assets and recoverable amounts (particularly key assumptions and sensitivities), see Note 10 - Impairment of Assets to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements. For a discussion of the risks associated with the markets where we operate, see Geopolitical Risks - “Investors in emerging markets, where our operations are located, are subject to greater risks than investors in more developed markets, including significant political, legal and economic risks as well as risks related to fluctuations in the global economy.”
Liquidity and Capital Risks
Substantial amounts of indebtedness and debt service obligations could materially decrease our cash flow, adversely affect our business and financial condition and prevent us from raising additional capital.
We have substantial amounts of indebtedness and debt service obligations. As of December 31, 2020, the outstanding principal amount of our external debt for bonds, bank loans, and other borrowings amounted to approximately US$7.7 billion. In addition to these borrowings, we also have lease liabilities amounting to US$1.9 billion. For more information regarding our outstanding indebtedness and debt agreements, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Liquidity and Capital Resources — Indebtedness.
Agreements under which we borrow funds contain obligations, which include covenants or provisions that impose on us certain operating and financial restrictions. Some of these covenants relate to our financial performance or financial condition, including balance sheet solvency, such as levels or ratios of earnings, debt, equity and assets and may prevent us or our subsidiaries from incurring additional debt. Failure to comply with these covenants or provisions may result in a default, which could increase the cost of securing additional capital, lead to accelerated repayment of our indebtedness or result in the loss of any assets that secure the defaulted indebtedness or to which our creditors otherwise have recourse. Such a default or
acceleration of the obligations under one or more of these agreements (including as a result of cross-default or cross-acceleration) could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects, and in particular on our liquidity and our shareholders’ equity. In addition, covenants in our debt agreements could restrict our liquidity and our ability to expand or finance our future operations. For a discussion of agreements under which we borrow funds, see Note 15 — Investments, Debt and Derivatives to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Aside from the risk of default, given our substantial amounts of indebtedness and the limits imposed by our debt obligations, our business could suffer significant negative consequences such as the need to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flows from operations to repayment of our debt, thereby reducing funds available for paying dividends, working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, joint ventures and other purposes necessary for us to maintain our competitive position, flexibility and resiliency in the face of general adverse economic or industry conditions.
We may not be able to raise additional capital, or we may only be able to raise additional capital at significantly increased costs.
We may need to raise additional capital in the future, including through debt financing. If we incur additional indebtedness, the risks that we now face related to our indebtedness and debt service obligations could increase. Specifically, we may not be able to generate enough cash to pay the principal, interest and other amounts due under our indebtedness or we may not be able to borrow money within local or international markets on acceptable terms, or at all. We may also be impacted by conditions or local legal requirements in local or international markets that make it difficult to raise capital, refinance existing debt or to service existing indebtedness. As more of our debt is denominated in local currencies, it may become more difficult to support one jurisdiction with reserves from another jurisdiction.
Our ability to raise additional capital, and the cost of raising additional capital, may also be affected by any downgrade of our credit ratings, which may happen for reasons outside our control and could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects. In addition, economic sanctions which may be imposed in the future by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, or other countries or organizations, including in connection with developments in Russia and Ukraine, may also negatively affect our existing financing and our ability to service it and our ability to secure future external financing, particularly if the sanctions are broadened. For more information on the sanctions imposed against Russia and Ukraine, see Exhibit 99.2 — Regulation of Telecommunications — Sanctions Regimes. Furthermore, the announced restrictions on use of and future elimination of the LIBOR benchmark, expected from June 2023 for U.S. dollar LIBOR and December 2021 for other currencies, or any other benchmark, changes in the manner of administration of any benchmark, or actions by regulators or law enforcement agencies could result in changes to the manner in which EURIBOR or LIBOR is determined, which could require an adjustment to the terms and conditions, or result in other consequences, in respect of any of our current or future debt linked to such benchmark.
If we are unable to raise additional capital in the market in which we want to raise it, or at all, or if the cost of raising additional capital significantly increases, we may be unable to make necessary or desired capital expenditures, take advantage of investment opportunities, refinance existing indebtedness or meet unexpected financial requirements, and our growth strategy and liquidity may be negatively affected. This could cause us to be unable to repay indebtedness as it comes due, to delay or abandon anticipated expenditures and investments or otherwise limit operations, which could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects.
A change in control of VEON Ltd. could harm our financial condition and business.
Our financing agreements across the VEON group generally have “change of control” provisions that may require us to make a prepayment if a person or group of persons (with limited exclusions) directly or indirectly acquire beneficial or legal ownership of or control over more than 50.0% of our share capital or the ability to appoint a majority of directors to our board. If such a change of control provision is triggered and we fail to agree necessary amendments to our bond or loan documentation and then fail to make any required prepayment, it could trigger cross-default or cross-acceleration provisions of our other financing agreements, which could lead to our obligations being declared immediately due and payable. A change of control could also impact other contracts and relationships with third parties and may require a renegotiation or reorganization of certain contracts or undertakings. This could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
Our strategic initiatives may not be successfully implemented and the benefits we expect to achieve may not be realized.
We continue to transform our business with the aim of improving our operations across all markets in which we operate. This transformation is working to expand our growth opportunities beyond traditional voice and access data provision into new digitally-enabled services. We are also developing new IT capabilities, including local platforms that enable our customers to manage their accounts and services independently (“self-care”), digital applications (e.g. TV, music, financial services), billing systems, customer relationship management systems, enterprise resource management systems, human capital management systems and enterprise performance management systems; and reducing and simplifying our IT cost base. There can be no assurance that this strategy will generate the results we expect. We may experience implementation issues due to a lack of coordination or cooperation with our operating companies or third parties, significant change in key personnel or otherwise encounter unforeseen issues, such as technological limitations, regulatory constraints or lack of customer engagement, which could frustrate our expectations regarding cost-optimization and process redesign or otherwise delay or hinder execution of these initiatives. As a result, these directional improvements may not be successful, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
As a holding company, VEON Ltd. depends on the performance of its subsidiaries and their ability to pay dividends or make other transfers to VEON Ltd. and may therefore be affected by a variety of local legal or regulatory changes, including changes in exchange controls and currency restrictions in the countries in which its subsidiaries operate.
VEON Ltd. is a holding company and does not conduct any revenue-generating business operations of its own. Its principal assets are the direct and indirect equity interests it owns in its operating subsidiaries, and thus VEON Ltd. depends on cash dividends, distributions, loans or other transfers received from its subsidiaries to make dividend payments to its shareholders and service interest and principal payments in respect of its indebtedness, including holders of ADSs and ordinary shares, and to meet other obligations. The ability of its subsidiaries to pay dividends and make other transfers to VEON Ltd. depends on the success of their businesses and is not guaranteed.
VEON Ltd.’s subsidiaries are separate and distinct legal entities. Any right that VEON Ltd. has to receive any assets of, or distributions from, any subsidiary upon its bankruptcy, dissolution, liquidation or reorganization, or to realize proceeds from the sale of the assets of any subsidiary, may be junior to the claims of that subsidiary’s creditors, including trade creditors. Furthermore, our ability to withdraw funds and dividends from our subsidiaries and operating companies may depend on the consent of our strategic partners where applicable.
The ability of VEON Ltd.’s subsidiaries to pay dividends and make payments or loans to VEON Ltd., and to guarantee the VEON group’s debt, will depend on their operating results and may be restricted by applicable corporate, tax and other laws and regulations, including restrictions on dividends, limitations on repatriation of cash and earnings and on the making of loans and repayment of debts, monetary transfer restrictions, covenants in debt agreements, and foreign currency exchange and related restrictions in certain agreements or certain jurisdictions in which VEON Ltd.’s subsidiaries operate or both. For more information on the legal and regulatory risks associated with our markets, see Regulatory, Compliance and Legal Risks — “We operate in uncertain judicial and regulatory environments.”
For more information on the restrictions on dividend payments, see Geopolitical Risks — “The banking systems in many countries in which we operate remain underdeveloped, there are a limited number of creditworthy banks in these countries with which we can conduct business and currency control requirements restrict activities in certain markets in which we have operations.”
Initiatives to merge with or acquire other companies or businesses, divest our companies, businesses or assets or to otherwise invest in or form strategic partnerships with third parties may divert management attention and resources away from our underlying business operations, and such efforts may not yield the benefits that were expected, or subject us to additional liabilities and higher costs from integration efforts or otherwise.
We seek from time to time to merge with or acquire other companies or businesses, divest our companies or businesses or form strategic partnerships through investments, the formation of joint ventures or otherwise, for various strategic reasons, including to: simplify our corporate structure; pursue optimal competitive positions in markets in which we have operations; divest certain operations, business lines or assets, including infrastructure assets; acquire more frequency spectrum; acquire new technologies and service capabilities; share our networks or infrastructure; add new customers; increase market penetration; expand into new or enhance “non-telecommunications” services such as digital financial services, banking or digital content; and expand into new markets.
Our ability to implement successful mergers, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or investments depends upon our ability to identify, evaluate, negotiate the terms of, complete and integrate suitable businesses and to obtain any necessary financing and the prior approval of any relevant regulatory bodies. These efforts could divert the attention of our management and key personnel from our underlying business operations. Following any such merger, acquisition, strategic partnerships or investment or failure of any such transaction to materialize (including any such failure caused by regulatory or third-party challenges), we may experience:
•difficulties in realizing expected synergies and investment returns from acquired companies, joint ventures, investments or other forms of strategic partnerships;
•unsuccessful integration of personnel, products, property and technologies into our existing business;
•higher or unforeseen costs of integration or capital expenditures (including the time and resources of our personnel required to successfully integrate any combined businesses);
•difficulties relating to the acquired or formed companies’ or our partnerships’ compliance with telecommunications or other regulatory licenses and permissions, compliance with laws, regulations and contractual obligations, ability to obtain and maintain favorable interconnect terms, frequencies and numbering capacity and ability to protect our intellectual property;
•adverse market reactions stemming from competitive and other pressures;
•difficulties in retaining key employees of the merged or acquired business or strategic partnerships who are necessary to manage the relevant businesses;
•difficulties in maintaining uniform standards, controls, procedures and policies throughout our businesses;
•risks related to loss of full control of a merged business, or not having the ability to adequately control and manage an acquired business, strategic partnership or investment;
•risks that different geographic regions present, such as currency exchange risks, competition, regulatory, political, economic and social developments, which may, among other things, restrict our ability to successfully capitalize on our acquisition, merger, joint venture or investment;
•adverse customer reaction to the business acquisition or combination; and
•increased liability and exposure to contingencies that we did not contemplate at the time of the merger, acquisition, strategic partnership or investment, including tax liabilities.
In addition, a merger, acquisition, strategic partnership or investment could materially impair our operating results by causing us to incur debt or requiring us to amortize merger or acquisition expenses and merged or acquired assets. We may not be able to assess ongoing profitability and identify all actual or potential liabilities or issues of a business prior to a merger, acquisition, strategic partnership or investment. If we merge with, acquire, form strategic partnerships with, or invest in businesses or assets and it results in assuming unforeseen liabilities or we have not obtained contractual protections or such protection is not available, our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects could be adversely affected. As we investigate industry consolidation, our risks may increase. Our integration and consolidation of such businesses may also lead to changes in our operational efficiencies or structure. For more information about our recent transactions, see Note 9 - Significant Transactions to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
From time to time, we may seek to divest some of our businesses, including divestitures of operations in certain markets, infrastructure or business lines, but such divestitures may take longer than anticipated or may not happen at all. If these or other divestitures do not occur, close later than expected or do not deliver expected benefits, this may result in decreased cash proceeds to the group and continued operations of non-core businesses that divert the attention of our management. Our success with any divestiture is dependent on effectively and efficiently separating the divested asset or business and reducing or eliminating associated overhead costs which may prove difficult or costly for us. There could also be transitional or business continuity risks or both associated with these divestitures that may impact our service levels and business targets. Further, in some cases, we may agree to indemnify acquiring parties for certain liabilities arising from our former businesses. Failure to successfully implement or complete a divestiture could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
Our strategic partnerships and relationships carry inherent business risks.
We participate in strategic partnerships and joint ventures in a number of countries, including in Pakistan (Pakistan Mobile Communications Limited, "PMCL"), Kazakhstan (KaR-Tel LLP and TNS-Plus LLP), Algeria (Omnium Telecom Algérie S.p.A., "OTA"), Uzbekistan (Joint Venture Buzton LLC), Kyrgyzstan (“Sky Mobile” LLC and Terra LLC), Georgia (“VEON Georgia” LLC) and Singapore (a minority holding in Shopup Pte. Ltd.). In addition, in Algeria, our local partner is a government institution, which could increase our exposure to the risks discussed in — Geopolitical Risks.
We do not always have a controlling stake in our affiliated companies and even when we do, our actions with respect to these affiliated companies may be restricted to some degree by shareholders’ agreements entered into with our strategic partners. In addition, our ability to withdraw funds and dividends from these entities may depend on the consent of partners. If disagreements develop with our partners, or any existing disagreements are exacerbated, our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects may be harmed.
For example, in Algeria, our partner can acquire the shares held by GTH at fair market value in various circumstances (including, generally, change in VEON’s indirect control of OTA, insolvency of GTH or VEON or material breach of the shareholders’ agreement by GTH), as well as under call option arrangements exercisable solely at its discretion between October 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021. Concurrently, GTH has a right to require our partner in Algeria to acquire its shares in various circumstances (including, generally, change of control of the Algerian National Investment Fund, material breach of the shareholders’ agreement by the Algerian National Investment Fund, loss of VEON’s ability to consolidate OTA, the taking of certain actions in Algeria against GTH or OTA, failure by OTA to pay a minimum dividend or imposition of certain tax assessments), as well as under put option arrangements exercisable solely at its discretion between July 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. In September 2020, in Pakistan, our partner the Dhabi Group, exercised its put option to sell us, at fair value (based on a mechanism established under the applicable shareholders’ agreement), its 15% shareholding in PMCL, the operating company of our subsidiary Jazz. Completion of the transfer remains subject to the conclusion of the contractual transfer mechanics with the Dhabi Group, and once completed, VEON will indirectly own 100% of PMCL.
If one of our strategic partners becomes subject to investigation, sanctions or liability, or does not act in accordance with our standards, we might be adversely affected. Furthermore, strategic partnerships in emerging markets are accompanied by risks inherent to those markets, such as an increased possibility of a partner defaulting on obligations or losing a partner with important insights in that region.
If any of the above circumstances occur, or we otherwise determine that a partnership or joint venture is no longer yielding the benefits we expect to achieve, we may decide to unwind such initiative, which may result in significant transaction costs or an inferior outcome than was expected when we entered into such partnership or joint venture.
We depend on third parties for certain services and equipment, infrastructure and other products important to our business.
We rely on third parties to provide services and products important for our operations. We currently purchase the majority of our network-related equipment from a core number of suppliers, principally Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Cisco and ZTE. The successful build-out and operation of our networks depends heavily on obtaining adequate supplies of core and transmission telecommunications equipment, fiber, switching equipment, radio access network solutions, base stations and other services and products on a timely basis. From time to time, we have experienced delays in receiving equipment, installation of equipment, and maintenance services. Delivery of equipment can be delayed by new and existing telecommunications regulations, customs regulations and governmental investigations or enforcement actions. Our vendors’ ability to deliver on key network and IT projects can be affected by global events such as pandemics, as we saw in the recent COVID-19 pandemic, by trade tensions and new regulations.
Our business could be materially impacted by disruptions to our core suppliers’ businesses or supply chains, due to developments such as significant geopolitical events, changes in law or regulation, public health issues (such as the coronavirus), and export and re-export restrictions that affect our and our suppliers’ ability to procure goods, software or technology necessary for the service, production and satisfactory delivery of the supplies, support services, and equipment that we source from them. For example, in May and August 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei and 114 of its affiliates to its “Entity List”, prohibiting companies globally from directly or indirectly exporting, re-exporting or transferring (in-country) all items subject to the EAR to Huawei and procuring items from Huawei when they know or have reason to know that the items were originally procured by Huawei in violation of the EAR. Further restrictions adopted by the United States, or any other applicable jurisdiction, on Huawei could potentially have a material adverse impact on our operations in certain markets where we are reliant on Huawei equipment or services. Specifically, any restriction on Huawei’s ability to deliver
equipment or services, or on our ability to receive such equipment or services, could adversely impact our business, the operation of our networks and our ability to comply with the terms of our operating licenses and local laws and regulations.
We have and may continue to outsource all or a portion of construction, maintenance services, IT infrastructure hosting and network capabilities in certain markets in which we operate. For example, our digital stacks and data management platforms are dependent on third parties. We have also partially implemented outsourcing initiatives in a number of markets including Russia and Kazakhstan. For more information on such initiatives, see Item 4.D - Property, Plants and Equipment. Our business could be materially harmed if our agreements with third parties were to terminate, if our partners experience certain negative developments (financial, legal, regulatory or otherwise), or a dispute between us and such parties occurs, causing the parties to no longer be able to deliver the required services on a timely basis or at all or otherwise fulfill their obligations under our agreements with them. If such events occur, we may attempt to renegotiate the terms of such agreements with the third parties. For example, in February 2019, we entered into a revised agreement with Ericsson to upgrade core IT systems in several countries with new digital business support systems (DBSS). For more information on this revised agreement, see Item 4.B - Business Overview - Information Technology. There can be no assurance that the terms of such amended agreements will be more favorable to us than those of the original agreements. For more information, see Item 4.D — Property, Plants and Equipment. As a result, the implementation of such initiatives, including our digital stacks and data management platforms, is dependent on third parties.
We also depend on third parties, including software providers and service providers, for our day-to-day business operations. For example, we rely on roaming partners to provide services to our customers while they are outside the countries in which we operate and on interconnect providers to complete calls that originate on our networks but terminate outside our networks, or that originate outside our networks and terminate on our networks. Certain roaming partners have been targeted by sanctions restrictions which has led us to change or terminate certain roaming relationships. We also rely on handset providers to provide the equipment used on our networks. Many of our mobile products and services are sold to customers through third party channels. These third-party retailers, agents and dealers that we use to distribute and sell products are not under our control and may stop distributing or selling our products at any time or may more actively promote the products and services of our competitors. Should this occur with particularly important retailers, agents or dealers, we may face difficulty in finding new retailers, sales agents or dealers that can generate the same level of revenue. Any negative developments regarding the third parties on which we depend could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
The telecommunications industry is highly capital intensive and requires substantial and ongoing expenditures of capital.
The telecommunications industry is highly capital intensive. Our success depends to a significant degree on our ability to keep pace with new developments in technology, to develop and market innovative products and to update our facilities and process technology, which will require additional capital expenditures in the future. The amount and timing of our capital requirements will depend on many factors, including acceptance of and demand for our products and services, the extent to which we invest in new technology and research and development projects, the status and timing of competitive developments, and certain regulatory requirements.
Although we regularly consider and take measures to improve our capital efficiency, including selling capital intensive segments of our business and entering into managed services and network sharing agreements with respect to towers and other assets, our levels of capital expenditure will remain significant. If we do not have sufficient resources from our operations to finance necessary capital expenditures, we may be required to raise additional debt or equity financing, which may not be available when needed or on terms favorable to us or at all. If we are unable to obtain adequate funds on acceptable terms, or at all, we may be unable to develop or enhance our products, take advantage of future opportunities or respond to competitive pressures, which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For more information on our future liquidity needs, see Item 5 — Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — Liquidity and Capital Resources — Future Liquidity and Capital Requirements.
Cyber-attacks and other cybersecurity threats may lead to compromised or inaccessible telecommunications, digital and financial services and/or leaks or unauthorized processing of confidential information, and perceptions of such threats may cause customers to lose confidence in our services.
Each of our subsidiaries is responsible for managing cybersecurity risks locally, including all operational preventive, detective and response capabilities, and as a group our operations and business continuity depend on how well these subsidiaries collectively protect and maintain our network equipment, information technology (“IT”) systems and other assets. Due to the nature of the services we offer across our geographical footprint, we are exposed to cybersecurity threats that could
negatively impact our business activities through service degradation, alteration or disruption, including a risk of unauthorized access to our systems, networks and data by third parties, whether private or state-sponsored, utilizing unidentified existing or new weaknesses, flaws or backdoors into network or IT systems. Cybersecurity threats could also lead to the compromise of our physical assets dedicated to processing or storing customer and employee information, financial data and strategic business information, exposing this information to possible leakage, unauthorized dissemination and loss of confidentiality. These events could result in reputational harm, lawsuits against us by customers, employees or other third parties, violations of data protection and telecommunications laws, adverse actions by telecommunications regulators and other authorities, an inability to operate our digital services or our wireless or fixed-line networks, loss of revenue from business interruption, loss of market share or significant additional costs. In addition, the potential liabilities associated with these events could exceed the cyber insurance coverage we maintain and certain violations of data protection and telecommunications laws (including as a result of data leakage) are administrative or criminal offenses in some countries, and can result in suspension of operating licenses, imprisonment or fines for the entity and/or the individuals involved.
Although we devote significant resources to the development and improvement of our IT and security systems, we are and will continue to remain vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other cybersecurity threats that could lead to compromised or inaccessible telecommunications, digital and financial services and/or leaks or unauthorized processing of confidential information, including customer information. Our systems are vulnerable to harmful viruses and the spread of malicious software that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity or availability of technology assets. In addition, unauthorized users or hackers may access and process the customer and business information we hold, or authorized users may improperly process such data. Such risks are inherent in our business operations and we will never be able to fully insulate ourselves from these risks. Our systems will remain vulnerable to attacks by third parties who are able to thwart the safeguards we have in place with tactics that are unforeseen or prove to be too sophisticated. Moreover, we may experience cyber-attacks and IT and network failures and outrages due to factors under our control, such as malfunction of technology assets or services caused by obsolescence, wear or defects in design or manufacturing, faults during standard or extraordinary maintenance procedures, unforeseen absence of key personnel, and the inability to protect our systems from phishing attacks.
From time to time, we have experienced cyber-attacks of varying degrees to gain access to our computer systems and networks. As of the date of this Annual Report on Form 20-F, we have suffered various cybersecurity incidents, which targeted our internal infrastructure but were contained by our response teams and generated limited or negligible impacts. In addition, we have identified unauthorized access to some of our network systems, possibly with the intention to capture information or manipulate the communications. Although we found no evidence that any such capture or manipulation was performed, we cannot guarantee that they did not take place, that all such attempts will be successfully thwarted in the future or that the impact of such attempts, if successful, would not be material to our business. There is also a possibility that we are not currently aware of certain undisclosed vulnerabilities in our IT systems and other assets. In such an event, hackers or other cybercrime groups (whether private or state-sponsored) may exploit such vulnerabilities, weaknesses or unidentified backdoors (including previously unidentified designed weaknesses embedded into network or IT equipment allowing access by private or government actors) or may be able to cause harm more quickly than we are able to mitigate (zero-day exploits).
Our business is also subject to disruption by computer malware or other technical or operational issues. Although our subsidiaries have implemented cyber-security strategies for mitigating these risks, we cannot be sure that our network and information technology systems will not be subject to such issues, or, if they are, that we will be able to maintain the integrity of our customers’ and employees’ data or that malware or other technical or operational issues will not disrupt our network or systems and cause significant harm to our operations. For example, in recent years, we have experienced infections by malware, advanced persistent threats, and network service interruptions during installations of new software. In some regions, our equipment for the provision of mobile services resides in a limited number of locations or buildings. Disruption to the security or operation of these locations or buildings could result in disruption of our mobile services in those regions. Moreover, the implementation of our transformation strategies may result in under-investments or failures in internal business processes, which may in turn result in greater vulnerability to technical or operational issues, including harm from failure to detect malware.
If our services are affected by such attacks and malware and this degrades our services, our products and services may be perceived as being vulnerable to cyber risk and the integrity of our data protection systems may be questioned. As a result, users and customers may curtail or stop using our products and services, and we may incur litigation exposure, regulatory fines, penalties, reimbursement or other compensatory costs.
Our equipment and systems are subject to disruption and failure for various reasons which could cause us to lose customers, limit our growth, violate our licenses or reduce the confidence of our customers in our ability to securely hold their personal data.
Our business depends on providing customers with reliability, capacity and security. Our technological infrastructure is vulnerable to damage or disruptions from other events, including natural disasters, military conflicts, power outages, terrorist acts, riots, government shutdown orders, changes in government regulation, equipment or system failures or an inability to access or operate such equipment or systems, human error or intentional wrongdoings, such as breaches of our network, cyber-attacks or any other types of information technology security threats. For example, we may experience network or technology failures or a leak or unauthorized processing of confidential customer data if our technology assets are altered, damaged, destroyed or misused, by employees, third parties or users, either intentionally or due to human error. In addition, as we operate in countries which may have an increased threat of terrorism and military conflict, incidents on or near our premises, equipment or points of sale could result in causalities, property damage, business interruption, legal liability and damage to our brand or reputation.
Interruptions of services could harm our reputation and reduce the confidence of our customers to hold their personal data, and consequently impair our ability to obtain and retain customers and could lead to a violation of the terms of our licenses, each of which could materially harm our business. In addition, the potential liabilities associated with these events could exceed the business interruption insurance we maintain.
Our ability to profitably provide telecommunications services depends in part on the terms of our interconnection agreements and access to third-party owned infrastructure and networks.
Our ability to secure and maintain interconnection agreements with other wireless and local, domestic and international fixed-line operators and, upon access to infrastructure, networks and connections that are owned or controlled by third parties and governments, on cost-effective terms is critical to the economic viability of our operations. The countries in which we operate have a limited number of international cable connections providing access to internet, data service and call interconnection and such international connections may be controlled by national governments that may seek to control or restrict access from time to time or impose conditions on pricing and availability which may impact our access and the competitiveness of our pricing. Outages, disconnections or restrictions, including governmental, to access affecting these international connections can have a significant impact on our ability to offer services and data connectivity to our customers. Interconnection is required to complete calls that originate on our respective networks but terminate outside our respective networks, or that originate from outside our respective networks and terminate on our respective networks. In certain jurisdictions in which we operate, the relevant regulator sets mobile termination rates (“MTRs”). If any such regulator sets MTRs that are lower for us than the MTRs of our competitors, our interconnection costs may be higher and our interconnection revenues may be lower, relative to our competitors. Moreover, even in cases of equal MTRs on the market for all players, the lowered MTR significantly impacts our revenues on a particular market. A significant increase in our interconnection costs, or decrease in our interconnection rates, as a result of new regulations, commercial decisions by other fixed-line operators, increased inflation rates in the countries in which we operate or a lack of available line capacity for interconnection could harm our ability to provide services, which could in turn harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For more information on our interconnection agreements, see Item 4.B — Business Overview.
Our intellectual property rights are costly and difficult to protect, and we cannot guarantee that the steps we have taken to protect our intellectual property rights will be adequate.
We regard our copyrights, service marks, trademarks, trade names, trade secrets, know-how and similar intellectual property, including our rights to certain domain names, as important to our continued success. For example, our widely recognized logos, such as “VEON”, “Beeline” (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan), “Kyivstar” (Ukraine), “Jazz” (Pakistan), “Djezzy” (Algeria) and “banglalink” (Bangladesh), have played an important role in building brand awareness for our services and products. We rely upon trademark and copyright law, trade secret protection and confidentiality or license agreements with our employees, customers, partners and others to protect our proprietary rights. However, intellectual property rights are especially difficult to protect in many of the markets in which we operate. In these markets, the regulatory agencies charged to protect intellectual property rights are inadequately funded, legislation is underdeveloped, piracy is commonplace and enforcement of court decisions is difficult.
We are in the process of registering, and maintaining and defending the registration of, the VEON name and logo as trademarks in the jurisdictions in which we operate and other key territories, along with our other key trademarks and tradenames, logos and designs. As of the date of this Annual Report on Form 20-F, we have achieved registration of the VEON name in thirteen of the seventeen jurisdictions sought (although in only certain classes in the European Union), with the
remaining four pending. With respect to the logo, we have achieved registration in thirteen of the seventeen jurisdictions sought (although in only certain classes in the European Union and Bermuda), with the remaining four pending. The timeline and process required to obtain trademark registration can vary widely between jurisdictions.
As we continue our investment into a growing ecosystem of local digital services, we will need to ensure that we have adequate legal rights to the ownership or use of necessary source code, content, and other intellectual property rights associated with our systems, products and services. For example, a number of platforms and non-connectivity services offered by VEON and its operating companies are developed using source code created in conjunction with third parties. We rely on a combination of contractual provisions and intellectual property law to protect our proprietary technology and software, access to and use of source code and other necessary intellectual property. Third parties may infringe or misappropriate our intellectual property. As the number of convergent product offerings, such as JazzCash or Beeline TV, and overlapping product functions increase, the possibility of intellectual property infringement claims against us may increase. Any such litigation may result in substantial costs and diversion of resources, and adverse litigation outcomes could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. We may have to litigate to enforce and protect our copyrights, trademarks, trade names, trade secrets and know-how or to determine their scope, validity or enforceability. In that event, we may be required to incur significant costs, and our efforts may not prove successful. The inability to secure or protect our intellectual property assets could have a material adverse effect on our business and our ability to compete.
In addition, new intellectual property laws or regulations may require us to invest substantial resources or may be unclear. Current and new intellectual property laws may affect the ability of companies, including us, to protect their innovations and defend against claims of intellectual property rights infringement. The costs of compliance with these laws and regulations are high and are likely to increase in the future. Claims have been, or may be threatened and/or filed against us for intellectual property infringement based on the nature and content in our products and services, or content generated by our users.
Current and new intellectual property laws may affect the ability of companies, including us, to effectively protect their innovations and defend against claims of intellectual property rights infringement. The costs of compliance with these laws and regulations are high and are likely to increase in the future. Claims have been, or may be threatened and/or filed against us for intellectual property infringement based on the nature and content in our products and services, or content generated by our users.
We depend on our senior management and highly skilled personnel, and, if we are unable to retain or motivate key personnel, hire qualified personnel, or implement our strategic goals or corporate culture through our personnel, we may not be able to maintain our competitive position or to implement our business strategy.
Our performance and ability to maintain our competitive position and to implement our business strategy is dependent in certain important respects on our global senior management team, highly skilled personnel and their level of continuity. In the markets in which we operate, competition for qualified personnel with relevant expertise is intense. There is sometimes limited availability of individuals with the requisite knowledge of the telecommunications and the digital services industries, the relevant experience and, in the case of expatriates, the ability or willingness to accept work assignments in certain of the jurisdictions in which we operate. We have experienced in recent years, and may continue to experience, certain changes in key management.
The loss of any key personnel or an inability to attract, train, retain and motivate qualified members of senior management or highly skilled personnel could have an adverse impact on our ability to compete and to implement new business models and could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. In addition, we may not succeed in instilling our corporate culture and values in new or existing employees, which could delay or hamper the implementation of our strategic priorities, or our compensation schemes may not always be successful in attracting new qualified employees and retaining and motivating our existing employees.
Our success is also dependent on our personnel’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing environments and to perform in pace with continuous innovations and industry developments. We also may, from time to time, make adjustments or changes to our operating and governance model and there is a risk in such instances that our personnel and the overall organization may not effectively adapt. Although we devote significant attention to recruiting and training, there can be no assurance that our existing personnel will successfully be able to adapt to and support our strategic priorities. There is also a possibility that we are unable to attract qualified individuals with the requisite skills to implement our digital initiatives or other business strategies.
We face uncertainty regarding our frequency allocations and may experience limited spectrum capacity for providing wireless services, and are subject to risk that government action results in requiring us to transfer our existing spectrum allocations.
To establish and commercially launch mobile and fixed wireless telecommunications networks, we need to receive frequency allocations for bandwidths within the frequency bands in the regions in which we operate. The availability of spectrum is limited, closely regulated and can be expensive, and we may not be able to obtain it from the regulator or third parties at all or at a price that we deem to be commercially acceptable given competitive conditions or without the imposition of certain service obligations, which could be burdensome. There are a limited number of frequencies available for mobile operators in each of the regions in which we operate or hold licenses to operate. We are dependent on access to adequate frequency allocation in each such market in order to maintain and expand our customer base. In the past, we have experienced difficulties in obtaining adequate frequency allocation in some of the markets in which we operate. For instance, in Russia, we have previously been unable to obtain frequency allocations in an assigned frequency band for LTE network development and, in Bangladesh, while we are currently one of the largest operators, we until recently held a disproportionately small amount of the frequency spectrum. In addition, frequency allocations may be issued for periods that are shorter than the terms of our licenses, and such allocations may not be renewed in a timely manner, or at all.
We are also subject to the risk that government action impairs our frequency allocations or spectrum capacity. For example, in 2017, the government of Uzbekistan published a decision ordering the equitable reallocation amongst all telecommunications providers in the market, which has affected approximately half of the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz radio frequencies of our Uzbek subsidiary, Unitel LLC. The decision, which also granted tech neutrality in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands, came into force on March 31, 2018. In addition, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation (formerly, the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation) has published a number of regulations regarding frequency allocation, consolidation and conversation, and increase of spectrum fees.
We may also be subject to increases in fee payments for frequency allocations under the terms of some of our licenses or to obtain new licenses.
Legislation in many countries in which we operate, including Russia and Pakistan, requires that we make payments for frequency spectrum usage. As a whole, the fees for all available frequency assignments, as well as allotted frequency bands for different mobile communications technologies, have been significant. For example, in Pakistan, the PTA issued a license renewal decision on July 22, 2019 requiring payment of an aggregate price of approximately US$450 million, a price which we are currently disputing in the Islamabad High Court, where the most recent hearing on this matter was concluded on March 1, 2021 and a judgment is now pending. Any significant increase in the fees payable for the frequencies that we use or for additional frequencies that we need could have a negative effect on our financial results. We expect that the fees we pay for radio-frequency spectrum, including radio-frequency spectrum renewals, could substantially increase in some or all of the countries in which we operate, and any such increase could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
If our frequency allocations are limited, we are unable to renew our frequency allocations or obtain new frequencies to allow us to provide mobile or fixed wireless services on a commercially feasible basis, our network capacity and our ability to provide these services would be constrained and our ability to expand would be limited, which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
Regulatory, Compliance and Legal Risks
We operate in uncertain judicial and regulatory environments, which may result in unanticipated outcomes that harm our business.
In many of the emerging market countries where we operate, the application of the laws and regulations of any particular country is frequently unclear and may result in unpredictable outcomes, including:
•restrictions or delays in obtaining additional numbering capacity, receiving new licenses and frequencies, receiving regulatory approvals for rolling out our networks in the regions for which we have licenses, receiving regulatory approvals for the use of changes to our frequency, receiving regulatory approvals of our tariffs plans and importing and certifying our equipment;
•significant additional costs, including fines and penalties, operational burdens and other difficulties associated with not complying in a timely manner, or at all, with new or existing legislation or the terms of any notices or warnings received from the telecommunications and other regulatory authorities; and
•adverse rulings or audit findings by courts or government authorities resulting from a change in interpretation or inconsistent application of existing law,
each of which may cause delays in implementing our strategies and business plans and create a more challenging operating environment. If we are found to be involved in practices that do not comply with applicable laws or regulations, we may be exposed to significant fines, the risk of prosecution or the suspension or loss of our licenses, frequency allocations, authorizations or various permissions, any of which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
New or proposed changes to laws or new interpretations of existing laws in the markets in which we operate may harm our business.
We are subject to a variety of national and local laws and regulations in the countries in which we do business. These laws and regulations apply to many aspects of our business. Violations of applicable laws or regulations could damage our reputation or result in regulatory or private actions with substantial penalties or damages, including the revocation of our licenses. In addition, any significant changes in such laws or regulations or their interpretation, or the introduction of higher standards, additional obligations or more stringent laws or regulations, including revision in regulations for license and frequency allocation and changes in foreign policy or trade restrictions and regulations (such as those resulting from recent tariff disputes between the United States and China) could have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
For example, in some of the markets in which we operate, SIM verification and re-verification initiatives have been implemented. In Pakistan, our subsidiary was required to re-verify more than 38 million SIM cards in 2016, with operators blocking all SIM cards that could not be verified. This resulted in a loss of approximately 13% of its customer base. In addition, the Pakistan Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 introduced sentencing and heavy fines for certain traditional marketing activities, thus directly impacting how we conduct our business. Similar actions may be contemplated or introduced in other markets in which we operate. In addition to customer losses, such requirements can result in claims from legitimate customers who are incorrectly blocked, fines, license suspensions and other liabilities for failure to comply with the requirements. To the extent re-verification and/or new verification requirements are imposed in the jurisdictions in which we operate, it could have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
Many jurisdictions in which we operate have seen the adoption of data localization and protection laws that prohibit the collection of certain personal data through servers located outside of the respective jurisdictions. For example, in Russia, telecommunications operators are required to provide information to Russian investigative authorities and gradually install pre-approved equipment to ensure storage of metadata for three years and contents of communications for six months pursuant to Federal Law No 374-FZ (commonly referred to as the Yarovaya laws). Violation of these laws by an operator may result in fines, suspension of activities or license revocation. For more information on the Yarovaya laws, see “Anti-terror legislation passed in Russia and other jurisdictions could result in additional operating costs and capital expenditures and may harm our business.”
In some jurisdictions in which we operate legislation is being implemented to establish a legal framework for preventing cyber-attacks and protecting critical information infrastructure. For example, Russian telecommunications operators are obliged to take various measures to protect their information infrastructure, provide reliable data transmission channels and inform government agencies and partners about incidents on critical information infrastructure. In addition, Federal Law No. 90-FZ “On certain amendments to the Federal Law ‘On communications’ and Federal Law ‘On information, information technologies and information protection’” (commonly referred to as the RuNet law) was adopted in Russia in 2019. The RuNet law is aimed at the development of an autonomous system that can support the operation of the internet in Russia in the event of disconnection from the global network and allow the Russian government to centralize, control and restrict data traffic in case of certain emergencies as may be determined by the Russian authorities. The provisions of the RuNet law impose a number of obligations that aim to ensure the centralization and control over data traffic on a broad range of persons. Telecommunications operators, including us, are required to, among other things, install counter-threat equipment to be provided by the Russian authorities, participate in trainings and file certain notifications to the Russian authorities. We are in the process of ensuring compliance with these requirements. However, the application of the RuNet law may, among other things, reduce the data transfer speed significantly, adversely affect the functioning of our infrastructure and business operations, restrict the use of or result in interruption of certain services, and trigger material costs. Most of the provisions of the RuNet law and subordinate
legislation entered into force between November 1, 2019 and May 11, 2020. On December 30, 2020, the Russian government decree “On licensing of activities in the field of communication services” introduced a new license requirement: ensuring the implementation of requirements related to the stability, security and integrity of the internet. The new provisions came into force on January 1, 2021. The implementation and support of measures to comply with the legislation may lead to substantial investments.
For a discussion of certain regulatory developments and trends and their impact on our business, see Exhibit 99.2 - Regulation of Telecommunications.
We are, and may in the future be, involved in, associated with, or otherwise subject to legal liability in connection with disputes and litigation with regulators, competitors and third parties.
We are party to a number of lawsuits and other legal, regulatory or antitrust proceedings and commercial disputes, the final outcome of which is uncertain. Litigation and regulatory proceedings are inherently unpredictable. An adverse outcome in, or any disposition of, these or other proceedings, including any that may be asserted in the future, could harm our reputation and have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For more information on these disputes, see Note 7 - Provisions and Contingent Liabilities to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
In addition, we currently host and provide a wide variety of services and products that enable users to engage in various online activities. The law relating to the liability of providers of these online services and products for the activities of their users is still unsettled in some jurisdictions. Claims may be threatened or brought against us for defamation, negligence, breaches of contract, copyright or trademark infringement, unfair competition, tort, including personal injury, fraud, or other grounds based on the nature and content of information that we use and store. In addition, we may be subject to domestic or international actions alleging that certain content we have generated, user-generated content or third-party content that we have made available within our services violates applicable law.
We may also be subject to claims concerning certain third-party products, services or content we provide by virtue of our involvement in marketing, branding, broadcasting, or providing access to them, even if we do not ourselves host, operate, provide, or provide access to, these products, services or content. Defense of any such actions could be costly and involve significant time and attention of our management and other resources, may result in monetary liabilities or penalties, and may require us to change our business in an adverse manner.
We may not be able to detect and prevent fraud or other misconduct by our employees, joint venture partners, non-controlled subsidiaries, representatives, agents, suppliers, customers or other third parties.
We may be exposed to fraud or other misconduct committed by our employees, joint venture partners, representatives, agents, suppliers, customers or other third parties undertaking actions on our behalf that could subject us to litigation, financial losses and fines or penalties imposed by governmental authorities, and affect our reputation. Such misconduct could include, but is not limited to, misappropriating funds, conducting transactions that are outside of authorized limits, engaging in misrepresentation or fraudulent, deceptive or otherwise improper activities, including activities in exchange for personal benefit or gain or activities that otherwise do not complying with applicable laws or our internal policies and procedures. The risk of fraud or other misconduct could increase as we expand certain areas of our business.
We regularly review and update our policies and procedures and internal controls, which are designed to provide reasonable assurance that we and our employees comply with applicable laws and our internal policies. VEON Ltd. issued a Business Partner Code of Conduct that we expect our representatives, agents, suppliers and other third parties to follow. In addition, we conduct risk-based training for our employees. However, are no guarantees that such policies, procedures, internal controls and training will, at all times, prevent or detect misconduct and protect us from liability arising from actions of our employees, representatives, agents, suppliers, customers or other third parties.
In addition to legal and financial liability, our reputation may be adversely impacted by association, action or inaction that is perceived by stakeholders or customers to be inappropriate or unethical and not in keeping with the group’s stated purposes and values. Reputational risk may arise in many different ways, including, but not limited to any real or perceived:
•failure to act in good faith and in accordance with the group’s values, Code of Conduct, other policies, procedures, and internal standards;
•failure to comply with applicable laws or regulations or association, real or perceived, with illegal activity;
•failure in corporate governance, management or systems;
•association with controversial practices, customers, transactions, projects, countries or governments;
•association with controversial business decisions, including but not limited to, those relating to existing or new products, delivery channels, promotions/advertising, acquisitions, representation, sourcing/supply chain relationships, locations, or treatment of financial transactions; or
•association with poor employment or human rights practices.
Our Mobile Financial Services (“MFS”) and Digital Financial Services (“DFS”) offerings are complex and increase our exposure to fraud, money laundering, reputational and regulatory risk.
MFS and DFS offerings are complex and subject to regulatory requirements which can be different from regulatory requirements of a telecommunications business. They may involve cash handling or other value transfers, exposing us to risk that our customers or business partners engage in fraudulent activities, money laundering or terrorism financing. Violations of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing laws, know-your-customer rules, and customer name screening and monitoring requirements or other regulations applicable to our MFS/DFS offerings could have material adverse effects on our financial condition and results of operations and result in legal and financial liability or reputational damage. The regulations governing these services are evolving and, as they develop, regulations could become more onerous, impose additional controls, reporting or disclosure obligations, or limit our flexibility to rapidly deploy new products, which may limit our ability to provide our services efficiently or in the way originally envisioned.
In addition, because our MFS and DFS offerings require us to process personal data (such as, consumer names, addresses, credit and debit card numbers and bank account details), we must comply with strict data privacy and consumer protection laws. For more information on risks associated with possible unauthorized disclosure of such personal data, see - “We collect and process sensitive customer data, and are therefore subject to an increasing amount of data privacy laws and regulations that may require us to incur substantial costs and implement certain changes to our business practices that may adversely affect our results of operations.”
Our MFS and DFS businesses also require us to maintain availability of our systems and platforms, and failure to maintain agreed levels of service availability or to reliably process our customers’ transactions due to performance, administrative or technical issues, system interruptions or other failures could result in a loss of revenue, violation of certain local banking regulations, payment of contractual or consequential damages, reputational harm, additional operating expenses to remediate any failures, or exposure to other losses and liabilities.
Mobilink Microfinance Bank Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, carries on a microfinance banking business and provides certain MFS, DFS and traditional banking services in Pakistan under license granted by the State Bank of Pakistan and is subject to regulation by the State Bank of Pakistan. State Bank regulations and banking laws are subject to change from time to time, including with respect to capitalization requirements and we may be required to increase the capitalization of Mobilink Bank from time to time and may be required to inject funds to cover any losses that the bank suffers. Mobilink Bank’s activities may expose it or the group to a risk of liability under banking and financial services compliance laws, including, for example, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regulations.
Our majority stake in an Egyptian company may expose us to legal and political risk and reputational harm.
Our subsidiary in Egypt, Global Telecom Holding S.A.E. (“GTH”), is an Egyptian private company and is therefore subject to corresponding laws and regulations.
GTH is the holding company for our assets in Algeria. We have experienced and expect to continue to experience the risk of unpredictable and adverse government action stemming from the political and economic conditions in Egypt and the inconsistent and unpredictable application of laws and regulations. Furthermore, although GTH entered into a tax settlement agreement with the Egyptian tax authorities for certain historic periods, GTH may in the future be subject to significant unfounded or unfair tax claims for other tax periods, or under existing or new Egyptian tax law. For more information on tax claims of the Egyptian authorities, see Note 7 — Provisions and Contingent Liabilities to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
We operate in a highly regulated industry and are subject to a large variety of laws and extensive regulatory requirements.
As a global telecommunications company, we are subject to different and occasionally conflicting laws and regulations in each of and between the jurisdictions in which we operate. Mobile, internet, fixed-line, voice, content and data markets generally are subject to extensive regulatory requirements, including strict licensing regimes, as well as antitrust and consumer protection regulations. Regulations may be especially strict in those countries in which we are considered to hold a significant market position (Ukraine, Pakistan and Uzbekistan), a dominant market position (Russia and Kazakhstan) or are considered a dominant company (Kyrgyzstan). The applicable rules are generally subject to different interpretations and the relevant authorities may challenge the positions that we take. As we expand certain areas of our business and provide new services, such as MFS, DFS, banking, digital content, other non-connectivity services, or value-added and internet-based services, we may be subject to additional laws and regulations. For more on risks related to MFS and DFS, see - "Our Mobile Financial Services ("MFS") and Digital Financial Services ("DFS") offerings are complex and increase our exposure to fraud, money laundering and reputational risk." Regulatory compliance may be costly and involve a significant expenditure of resources, thus negatively affecting our financial condition and results of operations.
Certain regulations may require us to reduce retail prices, roaming prices or mobile and/or fixed-line termination rates, require us to offer access to our network to other operators, or result in the imposition of fines if we fail to fulfill our service commitments. In some countries, we are required to obtain approval for offers and advertising campaigns, which can delay our marketing campaigns and require restructuring of business initiatives. We may also be required to obtain approvals for certain acquisitions, reorganizations or other transactions, and failure to obtain such approvals may impede or harm our business and our ability to adjust our operations or acquire or divest of businesses or assets. Laws and regulations in some jurisdictions oblige us to install surveillance, interception and data retention equipment to ensure that our networks are capable of allowing the government to monitor data and voice traffic on our networks. The nature of our business also subjects us to certain regulations regarding open internet access or net neutrality.
Regulatory requirements impact our business operations and may affect our financial performance. We face regulatory risks and costs in each of the markets in which we operate and may be subject to additional regulations in future. Any failure on our part to comply with these laws and regulations can result in negative publicity, diversion of management time and effort, increased competitive and pricing pressure on our operations, significant liabilities, third party civil claims and other penalties or otherwise harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
For more information on the regulatory environment in which we operate, see Exhibit 99.2 — Regulation of Telecommunications.
We are subject to anti-corruption laws in multiple jurisdictions.
We operate in countries which pose elevated risks of corruption and are subject to a number of anti-corruption laws, including the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), the UK Bribery Act, the anti-corruption provisions of the Dutch Criminal Code in the Netherlands and local laws in the jurisdictions in which we operate. An investigation into allegations of non-compliance or a finding of non-compliance with anti-corruption laws or other laws governing the conduct of business may subject us to administrative and other financial costs, reputational damage, criminal or civil penalties or other remedial measures, which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. Anti-corruption laws generally prohibit companies and their intermediaries from promising, offering or giving a financial or other things of value or advantage to someone for the purpose of improperly influencing a matter or obtaining or retaining business or rewarding improper conduct. The FCPA further requires US issuers to maintain accurate books and records and a system of sufficient internal controls. We regularly review and update our policies and procedures and internal controls to provide reasonable assurance that we and our personnel comply with the anti-corruption laws to which we are subject, although we cannot guarantee that these efforts will be successful.
We maintain a Business Partner Code of Conduct and attempt to obtain assurances from distributors and other intermediaries, through contractual and other legal obligations, that they also will comply with anti-corruption laws applicable to them and to us. However, these efforts to secure legal commitments are not always successful. There are inherent limitations to the effectiveness of any policies, procedures and internal controls, including the possibility of human error and the circumvention or overriding of the policies, procedures and internal controls. There can be no assurance that such policies or procedures or internal controls will work effectively at all times or protect us against liability under anti-corruption or other laws for actions taken by our personnel, distributors and other intermediaries with respect to our business or any businesses that we may acquire. Our Business Partner Code of Conduct is available on our website at http://www.veon.com (information appearing on the website is not incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on 20-F.
In addition, as previously disclosed, the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”) that VEON entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on February 18, 2016 has concluded and the criminal charges that had been deferred by the DPA have been dismissed. Since concluding the DPA, we have provided, and may in the future provide, updates on certain internal investigations related to potential misconduct to the U.S. authorities. In the event that any of these matters lead to governmental investigations or proceedings, it could have a material adverse impact on our business and results of operations.
Anti-terror legislation passed in Russia and other jurisdictions could result in additional operating costs and capital expenditures.
Federal Law No 374-FZ (the “Yarovaya law”) amended anti-terrorism legislation and imposed certain obligations on communication providers, including a requirement to store information evidencing receipt, transmission, delivery and/or processing of voice data, text messages, pictures, sounds, videos or meta-data reflecting these communications for a period of three years and a requirement to store the contents of such communications for a period of up to six months. This requirement came into force on July 1, 2018 for voice traffic and on October 1, 2018 for data traffic. In addition, the Yarovaya law requires communication providers to supply information to investigation and prosecution authorities about users and any other information “which is necessary for these authorities to achieve their statutory goals” including any information and codes necessary to decode the information. Furthermore, under other local Russian law, operators are required to block services for users whose personal data does not correspond to the data registered and stored by the operator. Failure to comply with this law may lead to administrative fines and could impact the effectiveness of our licenses. The implementation and support of measures to comply with the legislation led to substantial investments for the design of our IT systems in Russia and the purchase of specialized equipment and tools. The Russian authorities require, among other things, the use of specific storage equipment (such as data storage, interception devices, fiberoptic cables and technical platforms). We estimate that total Yarovaya law-related expenditures will be RUB 45 billion (US$609 million) over five years starting from 2018. Although the Yarovaya-law-related investment plans are progressing in alignment with legal requirements, it is possible that in the future the Russian Government will adopt additional requirements in this area which will lead to additional expenditures or otherwise necessitate additional investments to be compliant.
Similar legislation has been implemented, or is being contemplated, in other markets in which we operate. Compliance with such measures may require substantial costs and management resources and conflict with our legal obligations in other countries. Failure to comply may lead to administrative fines, impair our ability to operate or cause reputational damage. In addition, compliance with any such obligations may prompt allegations related to data privacy or human rights concerns, which could in turn result in reputational harm or otherwise impact our ability to operate or our results of operations.
Laws restricting foreign investment could materially harm our business.
We could be materially harmed by new or existing laws restricting foreign investment. For example, in Russia, there are a number of laws regulating foreign investment. Federal Law No. 57-FZ “On the Procedure for Foreign Investments in Business Entities of Strategic Importance for National Defense and State Security” (the “Russian Foreign Investment Law”) limits foreign investment in companies that are deemed to be strategic. Our Russian subsidiary, PJSC VimpelCom, is deemed to be a strategic enterprise under the Russian Foreign Investment Law. As a result, any acquisition by a foreign investor of direct or indirect control over more than 50% of its voting shares, or 25% in the case of a company controlled by a foreign government, requires the prior approval of the Government Commission on Control of Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation. The Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation (the “FAS”) which administers the application of the Russian Foreign Investment Law, has in the past challenged acquisitions of our shares by foreign investors. In addition, Federal Law dated July 27, 2006 No. 149-FZ “On the Information, Information Technology and Protection of Information” affects the provision of audio-visual services by foreign entities and local companies with more than 20% of foreign investments or shares. Furthermore, implementing regulation for Federal Law 187-FZ “On the security of Russia’s critical information infrastructure” contains provisions requiring that the subjects of critical information infrastructure make the transition to the preferential use of Russian software by January 1, 2024 and make the transition to the preferential use of Russian telecommunications equipment and radio-electronic products by January 1, 2025, both of which may require substantial investments or materially harm our business.
In Kazakhstan, according to the national security law, a foreign company or individual cannot directly or indirectly own more than a 49% stake in an entity that carries out telecommunications activities as an operator of long-distance or international communications or owns fixed communication lines without the consent of the Kazakhstan government.
Such laws may hinder potential business combinations or transactions resulting in a change of control or our ability to obtain financing from foreign investors should prior approval be refused, delayed or require foreign investors to comply with certain conditions, which could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
Our licenses are granted for specific periods and may be suspended, revoked or not extended or replaced upon expiration and we may be fined or penalized for alleged violations of law, regulations or license terms.
The success of our operations is dependent on the maintenance of our licenses to provide telecommunications services in the jurisdictions in which we operate. Most of our licenses are granted for specified terms, and there can be no assurance that any license will be renewed upon expiration. Some of our licenses will expire in the near term. For more information about our licenses, including their expiration dates, see Item 4.B — Business Overview. These licenses and the frameworks governing their renewals are subject to ongoing review by the relevant regulatory authorities. If renewed, our licenses may contain additional obligations, including payment obligations (which may involve a substantial renewal or extension fee), or may cover reduced service areas or scope of service. Furthermore, the governments in certain jurisdictions in which we operate may hold auctions (including auctions of spectrum for the 4G/LTE or more advanced services such as 5G) in the future. If we are unable to maintain or obtain licenses for the provision of telecommunications services or more advanced services or if our licenses are not renewed or are renewed on less favorable terms, our business and results of operations could be materially harmed.
We are required to meet certain terms and conditions under our licenses (such as nationwide coverage, quality of service parameters and capital expenditure, including network build-out requirements), including meeting certain conditions established by the legislation regulating the communications industry. From time to time, we may be in breach of such terms and conditions. If we fail to comply with the conditions of our licenses or with the requirements established by the legislation regulating the communications industry, or if we do not obtain or comply with permits for the operation of our equipment, use of frequencies or additional licenses for broadcasting directly or through agreements with broadcasting companies, the applicable regulator could decide to levy fines, suspend, terminate or refuse to renew the license or permit. Such regulatory actions could adversely impact our ability to carry on our business in the current or planned manner or to carry out divestitures in the relevant jurisdictions.
The occurrence of any of these events could materially harm our ability to build out our networks in accordance with our plans, our ability to retain and attract customers, our reputation and our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects. For more information on our licenses and their related requirements, see Item 4.B - Business Overview.
It may not be possible for us to procure in a timely manner, or at all, the permissions and registrations required for our base stations.
The laws of the countries in which we operate generally prohibit the operation of telecommunications equipment without a relevant permit from the appropriate regulatory body. Due to complex regulatory procedures, it is frequently not possible for us to procure in a timely manner, or at all, the permissions and registrations required for our base stations, including construction permits and registration of our title to land plots underlying our base stations, or to amend or maintain the permissions in a timely manner when it is necessary to change the location or technical specifications of our base stations. At times, there can be a number of base stations or other communications facilities and other aspects of our networks for which we are awaiting final permission to operate for indeterminate periods. This problem may be exacerbated if there are delays in issuing necessary permits.
We also regularly receive notices from regulatory authorities in countries in which we operate warning us that we are not in compliance with aspects of our licenses and permits and requiring us to cure the violations within a certain time period. We have closed base stations on several occasions in order to comply with regulations and notices from regulatory authorities. Any failure by our company to cure such violations could result in the applicable license being suspended and subsequently revoked through court action. Although we look to take all necessary steps to comply with any license violations within the stated time periods, including by switching off base stations that do not have all necessary permits until such permits are obtained, we cannot assure you that our licenses or permits will not be suspended or revoked in the future. If we are found to operate telecommunications equipment without an applicable license or permit, we could experience a significant disruption in our service or network operation, which could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
We collect and process personal data, and are therefore subject to an increasing number of data privacy laws and regulations that may require us to incur substantial costs and implement certain changes to our business practices that may adversely affect our results of operations.
We are subject to various, and at times conflicting, data privacy laws and regulations that apply to the collection, use, storage, disclosure and security of personal data that identifies or may be used to identify an individual, such as names and contact information, IP addresses, (e-mail) correspondence, call detail records and browsing history. Many countries have additional laws that regulate the processing, retention and use of communications data, including metadata. These laws and regulations are subject to frequent revisions and differing interpretations and are becoming more stringent over time.
In general, mobile operators are directly liable for actions of third parties to whom they forward personal data for processing. If severe personal data security breaches are detected, regulatory authorities could sanction our company, including suspending our operations for some time and levying fines and penalties. Violation of these laws by an operator may lead to a seizure of the operator’s database and equipment, imposition of administrative sanctions (including in the form of fines, suspension of activities or revocation of license) or result in a ban on the processing of personal data by such operator, which, in turn, could lead to the inability to provide services to our customers. The occurrence of any of the aforementioned events, individually or in the aggregate, could harm our brand, business, financial condition, results of operations or prospects.
Many of the jurisdictions in which we operate have laws that restrict cross border data transfers unless certain criteria are met and/or are developing or implementing laws on data localization requiring data to be stored locally. These laws may restrict our flexibility to leverage our data and build new, or consolidate existing, technologies, databases and IT systems, limit our ability to use and share personal data, cause us to incur costs, require us to change our business practices in a manner adverse to our business or conflict with other laws we are subject to, exposing us to regulatory risk. The stringent cross-border transfer rules in certain jurisdictions may also prohibit us from disclosing data to foreign authorities upon their request, which may generate a scenario where it is not possible for us to comply with both laws. If so, in addition to the possibility of fines, this could result in an order requiring that we change our data practices, which could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations. We are subject to a variety of data protection regulations. For example, the European Union introduced a data protection framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR implements more stringent operational requirements for processors and controllers of personal data. The GDPR is applicable to companies that are established in the European Union, or companies that offer goods and services to, or monitor the behavior of, individuals within the European Union. The GDPR is also still applicable for the United Kingdom following its withdrawal from the European Union December 31, 2020. While we believe that the processing of personal data by only a limited number of entities, including our Amsterdam and London offices and central operating entities within the European Union and the United Kingdom, are subject to GDPR, our operations in other markets may also become subject to this regulation, under certain circumstances, e.g. if such operations involve the offering of goods or services to, or monitoring the behavior of, individuals in the European Union and the United Kingdom. In addition, in Russia and certain other jurisdictions in our footprint, we are subject to certain data protection and other laws and regulations that establish different categories of information with different corresponding levels of protection, permitted registration, disclosure and required safeguards. These categories include state secret information and other data, including personal data of our customers and of other persons (such as our employees and third-party supplies and other counter-parties), privacy of communications and information on rendered telecommunications services. In each case, the operators must implement the required level of data protection and cooperate with government authorities on law enforcement disclosures for state secrets and personal data of customers. The ability to disclose certain types of data to affiliates or governmental authorities may be substantially restricted. For a discussion of other telecommunications related data protection related laws and regulations to which we are subject, see Exhibit 99.2 - Regulation of Telecommunications - Sanctions Regimes.
The laws and regulations regarding data privacy may become more stringent over time. For example, the European Commission has also proposed a draft of the new ePrivacy Regulation on January 10, 2017. The current draft of the ePrivacy Regulation is going through the EU legislative process and is intended to replace the 2002/58 e-Privacy Directive. When it comes into effect, it is expected to regulate the processing of electronic communications data carried out in connection with the provision and the use of publicly available electronic communications services to users in the European Union, regardless of whether the processing itself takes place in the European Union. Unlike the current ePrivacy Directive, the draft ePrivacy Regulation will likely apply to over-the-top service providers as well as traditional telecommunications service providers (including the requirements on data retention and interception and changes to restrictions on the use of traffic and location data). VEON entities established in the European Union which process such electronic communications data are likely to be subject to this regime. The current draft of the ePrivacy Regulation also regulates the retention and interception of communications data as well as the use of location and traffic data for value added services, imposes stricter requirements on electronic marketing, and changes to the requirements for use of tracking technologies like cookies. This could broaden the
exposure of our business lines based in the European Union to data protection liability, restrict our ability to leverage our data and increase the costs of running those businesses. The draft also significantly increases penalties.
Any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with privacy or security laws, policies, legal obligations or industry standards may result in governmental enforcement actions and investigations, blockage or limitation of our services, fines and penalties. If the third parties we work with violate applicable laws, contractual obligations or suffer a security breach, such violations may also put us in breach of our obligations under privacy laws and regulations and/or could in turn have a material adverse effect on our business. In addition, concerns regarding our practices with regard to the collection, use, disclosure or security of personal information or other privacy-related matters could result in negative publicity and have an adverse effect on our reputation and business.
We could be subject to tax claims and repeated tax audits that could harm our business.
Tax declarations together with related documentation are subject to review and investigation by a number of authorities in many of the jurisdictions in which we operate, which are empowered to impose fines and penalties on taxpayers. Tax audits may result in additional costs to our group if the relevant tax authorities conclude that entities of the group did not satisfy their tax obligations in any given year. Such audits may also impose additional burdens on our group by diverting the attention of management resources.
Tax audits in the countries in which we operate are conducted regularly, but their outcomes may not be fair or predictable. We have been subject to substantial claims by tax authorities in Russia, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. These claims have resulted, and future claims may result, in additional payments, including interest, fines and other penalties, to the tax authorities.
There can be no assurance that we will prevail in litigation with tax authorities and that the tax authorities will not claim that additional taxes, interest, fines and other penalties are owed by us for prior or future tax years, or that the relevant governmental authorities will not decide to initiate a criminal investigation or prosecution, or expand existing criminal investigations or prosecutions, in connection with claims by tax inspectorates, including those relating to individual employees and for prior tax years. In Russia, for example, tax returns remain open and subject to inspection by tax or customs authorities for three calendar years immediately preceding the year in which the decision to conduct an audit is taken. Laws enacted in Russia in recent years increase the likelihood that our tax returns that were reviewed by the Russian tax authorities could be subject to further review or audit during or beyond the eligible three-year limitation period by a superior Russian tax authority. We have also been the subject of repeat complex and thematic tax audits in Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Pakistan, which, in some instances, have resulted in payments made under protest pending legal challenges and/or to avoid the initiation or continuation of associated criminal proceedings. The outcome of these audits, including where the relevant tax authorities may conclude that we had significantly underpaid taxes relating to earlier periods, could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects.
The adverse or delayed resolution of tax matters could harm our business, financial condition and results of operations. For more information regarding tax claims and tax provisions and liabilities and their effects on our financial statements, see Note 7 - Provisions and Contingent Liabilities to our Audited Consolidated Financial Statements.
Changes in tax treaties, laws, rules or interpretations could have a material adverse effect on our business, and the unpredictable tax systems in the markets in which we operate give rise to significant uncertainties and risks that could complicate our tax planning and business decisions.
The introduction of new tax laws or the amendment of existing tax laws could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial performance and results of operations. Our business decision take into account certain taxation scenarios, which could be proven to be untrue in the event of an adverse decisions by tax authorities or changes in tax treaties, laws, rules or interpretations. For example, we are vulnerable to changes in tax laws, regulations and interpretations in the Netherlands, our current resident state for tax purposes, including the enforcement of tax law. Additionally, as European and other tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to varying interpretations, we cannot be sure that our interpretations are accurate or that the responsible tax authority agrees with our views. If our tax positions are challenged by the tax authorities, we could incur additional tax liabilities, which could increase our costs of operations and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. The introduction of new tax laws or the amendment of existing tax laws, such as those relating to transfer pricing rules or the deduction of interest expenses in the markets in which we operate, may also increase the risk of adjustments being made by the tax authorities and, as a result, could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial performance and results of operations. For example, within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) there is an initiative aimed at avoiding base erosion and profit shifting (“BEPS”) for tax purposes. This OECD BEPS project has resulted in further developments in other countries and in particular in the European Union. One
of the developments is the agreement on the EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive (“ATAD”). All EU Member States must implement the minimum standards as set out in the ATAD. The implementation of these measures against tax avoidance in the legislation of the jurisdictions in which we do business could have a material adverse effect on us.
These considerations are compounded by the fact that the interpretation and enforcement of tax laws in the emerging markets in which we operate tend to be unpredictable and give rise to significant uncertainties, which could complicate our tax planning and business decisions. Any additional tax liability imposed on us by tax authorities in this manner, as well as any unforeseen changes in applicable tax laws or changes in the tax authorities’ interpretations of the respective double tax treaties in effect, could harm our future results of operations, cash flows or the amounts of dividends available for distribution to shareholders in a particular period. For example, Russia has recently initiated renegotiation of certain tax treaties, including the treaties with Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the latter of which is still under negotiation. In addition, in recent years, the Russian tax authorities have aggressively brought tax evasion claims relating to Russian companies’ use of tax-optimization schemes, and press reports have speculated that these enforcement actions have been selective and politically motivated. Furth