MTN case pits Uganda against 4 nations
Since the earlier deportation of three senior MTN managers two weeks ago, Uganda has been under pressure from France, Italy, South Africa and Rwanda to substantiate claims that the trio had been engaged in espionage as alleged by security agencies.
French national and MTN Uganda’s 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 Muzzolini were also accused of waging a campaign to sabotage the collection of new taxes introduced last June on mobile money transactions and social media sites, known as the Over The Top (OTT) tax.
In that meeting, President Museveni is reported to have said that the campaign in which members of MTN’s executive committee discussed strategies to lobby against the tax could be forgiven. He, however, deferred a decision on the trio’s alleged spying on government officials for Rwanda.
Sources at MTN however told The EastAfrican that Mr Vanhelleputte had told his colleagues at MTN Uganda that he was being deported for “speaking to people who had been deported” from Uganda. That is what the security officials had told him.
“I have nothing to say about these developments because I don’t know what is happening. Let’s wait for security to appraise us on the reasons for the deportations.”
It has also emerged that Mr Vanhelleputte was to have been deported alongside the other three employees in January, but had escaped because of a last-minute change in plan that saw him skip a meeting in Rwanda.
When security agents arrested Mr Prentout and Ms Muzzolini on January 19, they spent a while looking for two other people who had supposedly slipped through. Those two turned out to be Mr Vanhelleputte, who had not left Uganda, and Ms Tabura, who was cleared at the Immigration desk because she had her work permit stamped in her passport.
The sacking of Mr Katamba, who had worked with MTN for close to 18 years, followed a period of tension between him and other employees who accused him of intimidation and high-handedness.
Last week, a whistleblower brought these issues to management and even attached excerpts from the proceedings of Criminal Case 123 of 2012, in which Justice Lawrence Gidudu refused to admit as evidence a confession by Patrick Ssentongo, a former MTN employee who was charged with defrauding the company.
In his testimony before the court, Mr Ssentongo claimed that Mr Katamba had personally instructed a senior police officer, Nixon Agasirwe, to force a confession out of him. Mr Agasirwe is currently in detention, facing charges of illegal arrest and deportation of Rwandan refugees. He case is before the military court martial.
MTN management is said to have considered Mr Katamba’s actions as constituting aggravated indiscipline and decided to sack him. In the termination letter, however, MTN cites recent standoffs with the regulator and the numerous court cases that the company has been involved in as evidence that Mr Katamba had failed in his role as the company’s internal legal advisor.
In communications after she had been deported, Ms Muzzolini said that during her interrogation, security agents had shown her screenshots of a WhatsApp group discussion in which Mr Katamba and the three deported officers discussed strategies for dropping the new industry taxes. Ms Muzzolini revealed that while Mr Katamba was party to that discussion, his part of the conversation was missing from the exhibits.