February 15, 2019 / 3:30 AM / 2 months ago

Uganda deports MTN CEO over 'national security' concerns

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda has deported the chief executive of MTN Uganda, the largest telecoms firm in Uganda which is part of South Africa’s MTN Group, over national security concerns.

The move follows the East African country’s deportation last month of three senior MTN Uganda executives who were alleged to have planned to compromise national security.

Wim Vanhelleputte, a Belgian national, had been deported and was “destined for Belgium around midnight (Thursday) over ... circumstances of national security,” Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga told Reuters on Friday, without giving details.

MTN Uganda said it was trying to find out why Vanhelleputte had been deported and it had appointed its chief technology officer Gordian Kyomukama as acting chief executive.

Reuters was not able to contact Vanhelleputte.

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

Vestact portfolio manager Michael Treherne, whose firm holds a minority stake in MTN, told Reuters the risks the group faces in foreign markets had curbed the share price over time.

“The market is giving it quite a big risk discount because of the territories that MTN operates in,” he said by phone.

MTN lost $4 billion of its market value last September after the Nigerian central bank accused it of repatriating $8 billion without the correct paperwork. The row was later resolved after the company paid a token settlement.

The Uganda business contributes about 4 percent of the group’s earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization.

With more than 10 million subscribers, MTN Uganda is the country’s largest telecommunications firm and competes chiefly with the local unit of India’s Bharti Airtel.

It has been under pressure from authorities to list shares on the local bourse and it is also involved in lengthy negotiations over renewing its operating license, which expired last year after a 20-year period.

Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) told Reuters that the government has effectively taken a decision to extend MTN’s license.

In late January, President Yoweri Museveni repeated a call for MTN Uganda to list its shares to allow domestic ownership and ensure more of the money it earns stays in the country.

Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg; Editing by Alexander Smith

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