National News

MTN mobile money boss deports triggers Rwanda protests

Kampala- Government last evening confirmed the arrest and deportation of Ms Elsa Mussolini, the MTN mobile money general manager, after police authorities grilled her for at least four hours in connection with alleged incitement to violence.

Ms Mussolini and her colleague, Mr Anthony Katamba, the general manager corporate services and chief legal counsel at MTN, were summoned to Kireka at 2pm and were separately grilled by detectives at Special Investigations Division (SID) under the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
After government deported two MTN employees to Rwanda and France, on allegations of compromising national security, the CID deputy director in charge of special investigations, Mr Elly Womanya, wrote to MTN managers inviting then to SID “without fail” to assist security in the on-going investigations into alleged incitement of violence. Mr Womanya quoted section 51 and 83 of Penal Code Act.

In a January letter to Ms Musolini (sic) titled; “Alleged incitement to violence contrary to section 51& 83 penal code act” Mr Womanya wrote: “Investigations are being conducted into the above underlined allegation of which some employees of MTN (U) Ltd are a subject are a subject of these investigations…”

Security sources told this newspaper that Ms Mussolini and Mr Katamba appeared at SID on the same day. 
Mr Katamba’s fate, however, remains unclear.

Police take
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga confirmed Ms Mussolini’s deportation to Italy and explained that investigations into incitement to violence were still on-going.

Mr Enanga, however, did not provide any context on the alleged crime. 
“A decision has been taken to deport Ms Mussolini for incitement to violence” Mr Enanga said, adding: “Investigations are still ongoing on why they participated in incitement to violence. The SID has several leads that they are following in this case.”

Police authorities on Monday deported Olivier Prentout, a French national, and Ms Annie Tabura, a Rwandan, to their respective countries.

More searches
Police sources told this newspaper that they are looking for more MTN employees suspected to have participated in inciting violence.

With police authorities and other security agencies unwilling to disclose wider details of the alleged crime, we could not independently establish how and when MTN employees incited violence.

By press time last evening, it was also not clear why the suspects were not arraigned in court to face trial.

MTN staff deportation triggers Rwanda protests

Security sources have said the two MTN Uganda senior officials were deported after intelligence agencies intercepted their communication to “a dangerous foreign group and persons” deemed a threat to the country’s security.

But the claim provoked a protest from the Rwandan mission in Kampala who accused Uganda of deporting several Rwandans under dubious circumstances.

The MTN Uganda chief marketing officer, French national Olivier Prentout, was arrested on Saturday at Entebbe airport on arrival from a business trip and deported while Rwandan national Annie Bilenge Tabura, the telecom’s head of sales and distribution, was deported on Monday.

“They were in regular contact with bad people,” a security source said but declined to reveal further detail. This newspaper, however, was unable to independently verify the claim.

Yesterday, MTN Uganda issued a statement about the incident but offered nothing more than confirming the deportation.

The telecommunication company did not also give details of the allegations against its officials. The statement said Ms Bilenge was arrested by unidentified security personnel upon arrival at the MTN headquarters in Kololo.

“Both Mr Prentout and Ms Bilenge have been deported from Uganda to their home countries, France and Rwanda respectively. MTN Uganda, together with all its employees, remains fully committed to operating within and respecting the laws of the country,” the statement said.

The two officials were reportedly returning from an MTN Group meeting in Rwanda.

Security agencies were tight-lipped on the matter. 
No government official explained how the two MTN foreign officials had allegedly worked clandestinely to jeopardise Uganda’s security.

When asked about the cause of the deportation, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) spokesperson, Brig Richard Karemire, deflected the responsibility to police.

“That’s a police issue. They have already issued a statement on that,” he answered.

Other security sources said the duo is suspected to have been intercepting calls of government officials, business people and sharing their conversations with security agencies of foreign countries.

“They have been working with a leading telecom company and could use the telecom’s devices to tap calls of government officials. This has been going on for a while and a team of IT experts were assigned to track them down,” a senior security source said. We were also unable to verify this allegation.
The source further said when Mr Prentout arrived at the airport, he was led into a room where he was interrogated for two hours by police officers and security operatives in civilian clothes.

Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambage, yesterday said he did not know why the Rwandan national had been deported. 
“What is the case against her? Ask them. The right people to tell you what she was arrested and deported for are “them” (Uganda government),” Maj Gen Mugambage said.

He said Ms Bilenge is not the first Rwandan to be deported by the Uganda government, adding that several Rwandans have suffered the same fate under unclear circumstances.

“I have written to them [Uganda government] and asked why they are deporting Rwandans. I have not got any answer,” Maj Gen Mugambage said. 
The immigration spokesperson, Mr Jacob Siminyu, only said the deportations were done correctly and followed the legal procedure. He declined to reveal further details.

When asked why people deemed to have endangered national security would not be arrested and prosecuted instead of deportation, he referred Daily Monitor to the deputy police spokesperson, Ms Polly Namaye.

Ms Namaye had earlier issued a statement which did not offer more than confirming the deportation on account of undermining national security.

“This is to inform the general public that security agencies in close coordination with immigration officials have been investigating two foreign nationals working with a leading mobile telecom company over their engagements in acts which compromise national security,” the statement said.

“We strongly believe that the deportation of the two foreigners, who were using their employment as tools to achieve their ill motives, has enabled us disrupt their intended plans of compromising our national security,” Ms Namaye added.

A security expert at a diplomatic mission in Kampala said MTN data centre in Uganda also keeps information from Rwanda and there were allegations that the deported officers were using call data to track communication between security agencies of both countries.

Sources in MTN said they suspect the telecom company was being targeted by government.

They said government has delayed to renew their operating licence and given the past raid on their data centre and persistent accusations of tax evasion to suggest the deportation was motivated by other factors other than the alleged undermining of national security.

On October 28, 2018, President Museveni wrote to Uganda Communications Commission demanding an explanation why the fees for renewal of MTN Uganda’s operating licence had been reduced from the original $100m (about Shs370 billion) to $58m (about Shs217b).

As of June last year, MTN commanded the largest share of mobile phone subscribers in Uganda at 10.5 million.

Mr Museveni also questioned UCC why it revised the licence fees without involving Ministry of Finance and Uganda Revenue Authority.

In the same letter to UCC, Mr Museveni said government was aware that MTN Uganda was under-declaring its profits and repatriating them.

In the past he has accused telecom companies of under-declaring to URA, the number of calls their subscribers make on their networks.

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