Uganda deports MTN CEO Wim Vanhelleputte

Friday February 15 2019

Wim Vanhelleputte

MTN Uganda CEO Wim Vanhelleputte was deported to Belgium on the night of February 14, 2019. PHOTO | MONITOR | NMG 

The EastAfrican
By The EastAfrican
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Uganda has now deported leading telecom MTN chief executive officer Wim Vanhelleputte, the fourth top executive to be kicked out from the country this year on suspicion of undermining state security.

In a letter signed by Internal Affairs Minister Mr Jeje Odongo on Thursday, Mr Vanhelleputte, a Belgian, is to stay outside Uganda indefinitely.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga on Thursday evening told the Monitor that Mr Vanhelleputte had already been taken to Entebbe airport.

"He's already at the airport and destined for Belgium around midnight. Over similar circumstances of national security," he said.

Last month, the domestic intelligence unit, in quick succession, rounded up and deported three top executives of the telecom from Uganda between January 19 and 22.

They are French national and MTN Uganda chief marketing officer Olivier Prentout, Rwandan Annie Bilenge Tabura, who was head of sales and distribution, and Franco-Italian citizen and general manager for mobile financial services Elsa Mussolini.

The expulsion of Ms Tabura further frayed relations with Rwanda, which cited her removal as further evidence of a witch-hunt against its citizens by Kampala. Uganda and Rwanda have traded accusations of espionage.

Days following the deportations, President Yoweri Museveni met with MTN Group chief executive Rob Shuter in Davos, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, where they agreed to solve the months old dispute over the renewal of MTN’s licence, and that the telco would spread its ownership to more Ugandans through a share placement with the National Social Security Fund.

Mr Museveni had accused players in the telecommunications sector of cheating on taxes through under-declaration of earnings. He also alluded to the impact of repatriation of profit by foreign firms on exchange-rate stability.

MTN International controls 95 percent of the stock in MTN Uganda. Ugandan businessman Charles Mbiire holds the solitary Ugandan stake of five per cent in the company.

The President had earlier protested what he saw as an unwarranted discount when the Uganda Communications Commission allowed itself to be bargained down from $100 million to $58 million for MTN’s 10-year licence extension.

President Museveni’s view, communicated in a letter to UCC, was that MTN should pay more for the licence since it was repatriating 95 percent of its profits from the country.

MTN Uganda is currently operating under an interim licence after its 20-year licence expired last year.

Acting CEO

On Friday, the South African-owned MTN Uganda appointed the chief technical officer Gordian Kyomukama as the acting CEO.

In a statement, MTN said it has not been notified of the grounds for Mr Vanhelleputte's deportation.

“We are understandably concerned about these developments and are engaging with the authorities to seek understanding that would lead us to resolving this matter,” the telecom said.