Uganda deports MTN executives, cites national security: police

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda has deported a French and a Rwandan executive from telecoms group MTN, accusing them of planning to compromise national security, while other employees were being investigated for alleged incitement to violence, police said on Tuesday.

MTN Uganda, the local unit of South African telecoms firm MTN Group, said its Chief Marketing Officer, Olivier Prentout, was detained at Entebbe airport on Saturday after returning from a business trip and then sent back to France.

The company said its Head of Sales and Distribution, Annie Bilenge Tabura, was arrested by security personnel as she arrived at its headquarters in Kampala on Monday morning, then deported to Rwanda.

It did not comment directly on the police accusation, but said the company and all its employees were committed to respecting and operating within Ugandan laws. There was no immediate statement from either executive.

“MTN Uganda has not been officially notified of the grounds for Mr Prentout and Mrs Bilenge’s arrests and deportation,” MTN Group spokeswoman Karen Byamugisha said in an emailed response to questions.

Police said on Twitter that the pair were deported “over their engagements in acts which compromise national security”, without giving further details.

In another letter to the telecom firm seen by Reuters, police said on Tuesday they were investigating some employees of MTN Uganda over allegations of “incitement to violence”.

Justina Ntabgoba, spokeswoman for MTN Uganda said by telephone that the firm had received the letter.

“It’s an issue of national security ... I am not at liberty to comment,” she said, declining to give more details. In a separate email, she referred Reuters to police for comment on the matter.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga also confirmed the authenticity of the letter but told Reuters he did not have details of the investigation.

Last year, MTN Uganda said government security personnel had raided its data centre and disconnected four of its servers.

MTN Uganda has more than 10 million subscribers and competes chiefly with India’s Bharti Airtel.

MTN’s 20-year local licence expired in October. The firm applied for a 10-year extension and the Uganda Communications Commission gave it an interim renewal lasting 60-days pending resolution of a number of unspecified issues before a final license is issued.

Ugandan authorities have said MTN has agreed to list its shares on Uganda’s local bourse as a condition of renewing its licence, though the firm itself is yet to confirm this.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Aditional reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by George Obulutsa and Catherine Evans