Uganda deports three senior telecom employees citing espionage

An MTN mobile money stand in Gulu Town, Uganda. PHOTO: Fiona Graham/WorldRemit (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Uganda's leading telecom company MTN is going through a tough time after Ugandan police arrested and later deported its chief marketing officer, Olivier Prentout, back to France, on Saturday, January 19, 2019, following several hours of questioning at Entebbe International Airport on his return from a business trip.

The following Monday, on January 21, Annie Tabura, a Rwandan national and the general manager of sales and distribution at MTN, was also arrested as she arrived at the company's headquarters in Kololo, Kampala. She was taken for questioning at the Special Investigations Division before being deported that same day.

In a report by the Ugandan police, they accused Tabura and Prentout of using their offices to access information and tap calls which compromised Uganda's national security.

“We found that it was very necessary to go through the due process of deporting them,” Polly Namaye, Uganda's deputy police spokesperson, said in an NTV interview.

Namaye confirmed the two had been under investigation for “quite some time” and were deported because “we thought if they remained [in Uganda] during the course of the investigation, it may cause … further problems and compromise.”

MTN Uganda confirmed the deportations through a tweet:

On Wednesday, January 23, Elsa Mussolini, the general manager of mobile money, was also called to the Special Investigations Division for questioning together with the chief executive officer and general manager of corporate affairs before Mussolini was also deported to Italy that day.

It was reported that Mussolini told her colleagues through a text that the police accuses her of inciting violence, claiming that she transferred a huge amount of money to musician and legislator Robert Kyagulanyi, famously known as Bobi Wine, during the demonstrations against the 1 percent Mobile Money tax and the UGX 200 daily social media tax. Bobi Wine was one of the few legislators that took it to the streets to fight the tax, arguing that they were meant to rip off youth and poor Ugandans.

Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor reported:

It’s alleged that Ms. Mussolini, in one of her parting shots, disclosed that her deportation was in connection with the legislator. However, when asked … whether security agencies were investigating MTN executive for funding Mr Kyagulanyi’s campaigns against mobile money taxes, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said: ‘That is not a national security concern.’

On Wednesday, at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has ruled for the last 33 years, met with the MTN Group CEO, Rob Shuter, and the telecom giant reported that the meeting focused on MTN's position toward the development of Uganda:

However, in a tweet, the president stated that he advised the telecom giant to allow more Ugandans to buy shares in the company as this will reduce the heavy repatriation of profits. He failed to mention anything about the deportation of the expatriates.

Prior to this saga, in July 2018, MTN Uganda server officers were raided by police and four servers were disconnected. There has been no clear statement on whether the deportations are linked to the office raid or totally independent:

MTN Uganda is a subsidiary of MTN Group, a South African owned multinational telecom company. MTN Uganda opened up in 1998 and celebrated its 20th birthday last October.

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