* MTN Group says court ruled CEO need not appear in court
* MTN says dismissed worker lodged "baseless" charges
(Adds MTN Group comment)
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, Nov 20 South African telecoms group
MTN's chief executive and other senior managers have
been summoned by a Ugandan court to face tax fraud charges,
according to a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
MTN Uganda, the largest operator in the east African
country, has previously denied the charges, saying they were
initiated by a former employee sacked on allegations of theft.
MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa and 12 officials including the
chairman and CEO of MTN Uganda were asked to appear in court on
Dec. 12 to face charges of tax evasion, conspiracy to make false
customs declarations and conspiracy to evade taxes, according to
a summons issued by the Buganda Road Court on Nov. 7.
MTN's website says a former worker, Naphtal Were, initiated
the charges. Its statement also said an internal investigation
and another by police implicated Were in the loss of 13 billion
shillings ($5.0 million).
Were, whose lawyer was not available to comment, has since
been sued by MTN for embezzlement. He initiated the case against
the company as a private prosecution last month but a court
ruled on Nov. 6 the public prosecutor should take it over.
Ugandan laws permit a person to start private criminal
proceedings against another, with the public prosecutor having
the a right to take over any such case.
MTN said on Tuesday the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate's
Court had ruled that criminal summons issued earlier, during the
private prosecution by Were, were not mandatory orders that
required court appearance.
"The matter has been handed over to the Director of Public
Prosecutions, who will decide whether to lay criminal charges
against MTN," said Paul Norman, MTN Group's corporate affairs
officer. "The allegations against MTN are baseless and spurious;
and are a desperate attempt by an employee facing four cases of
fraud and theft to sully MTN's reputation."
MTN's statement on its website said: "It should be noted
that the private prosecution ... was brought against the MTN
global chief executive and the board ... Customs declarations
are made by clearing agents, and not by the MTN global chief
executive or the MTN board".
MTN, the market leader in the region's third-largest economy
since it entered Uganda in 1998, faces rising competition from
other players including Airtel Uganda - owned by Indian company
Bharti Airtel, and Warid Uganda - owned by Indian
($1 = 2,615 Ugandan shillings)
(Editing by Dan Lalor and James Macharia)