May 30, 2019 / 10:18 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-MTN Uganda's deported CEO allowed to return -official

(Adds details, background)

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, May 30 (Reuters) - The head of MTN Group’s Ugandan business has been allowed to return to the country and is expected back later on Thursday, more than three months after he was deported, a company official told Reuters.

Wim Vanhelleputte, the chief executive officer of MTN Uganda, was deported by the East African country on Feb. 15 due to “national security” concerns, police said at the time, without giving details.

“We have been formally notified, we got a letter and it was the president who requested the minister of internal affairs to write and allow him (CEO) to come immediately and he is coming today,” MTN Uganda’s chairman, Charles Mbire, told Reuters by telephone.

He said Vanhelleputte would resume his duties as CEO of MTN Uganda, a unit of South African telecoms group MTN.

The development is the first sign of a rapprochement between the firm and President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

Relations between two have been strained since last year over the alleged use of the firm’s network for espionage and suspected evasion of taxes through under-declaration of revenue among other issues.

MTN Uganda, the country’s largest telecoms services provider, has over 10 million subscribers in Uganda and competes chiefly with the local unit of India’s Bharti Airtel.

MTN Uganda has also been under political pressure to expand local ownership of its equity.

Subsequently the firm has announced it is looking to boost the size of its stake owned by Ugandans to 20 percent from 4 percent and said it was already in talks with a Ugandan pensions fund as a potential investor.. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and David Evans)

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