MTN staff deportation triggers Rwanda protest

A photo montage of MTN Uganda’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mr Olivier Prentout and the general manager Sales and Distribution, Ms Annie Tabura.

Kampala- 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.