Kampala expels boss of MTN’s Uganda arm, citing ‘national security’

KAMPALA (AFP) – Kampala has deported the Belgian CEO of the Ugandan branch of MTN on security grounds, in the fourth such expulsion targetting the South African telecoms giant within a month.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said MTN’s Wim Vanhelleputte had been deported on Thursday evening for reasons of “national security”.

MTN on Friday confirmed the deportation but said it was unclear why Vanhelleputte had been asked to leave.

“MTN has not been notified of the grounds for the deportation and is working hard to establish precise reasons” for it, said Communications Manager Valery Okecho. “We are understandably concerned about these developments and are engaging with the authorities to seek understanding that would lead us to resolve this matter.”

MTN operates in 22 African countries and Vanhelleputte has served as CEO of its Uganda branch since July 2016. The company said on Friday it had appointed its Ugandan chief technology officer Gordian Kyomukama as acting chief executive in order “to ensure business continuity”.

Last month, Kampala expelled three other foreign nationals serving as senior executives at MTN, accusing them of using their positions to “compromise national security”.

They included Olivier Prentout, a French national serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Rwandan Annie Bilenge-Tabura, who was head of sales and distribution, and Elsa Mussolini, an Italian who headed MTN’s mobile financial services.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official from the Ugandan police told AFP that the intelligence services had discovered last year that “a neighbouring country had infiltrated the police and was in the process of intercepting our communication lines”.

“On investigating, we discovered a link between that country and MTN, where some foreigners were recruited specifically to carry out espionage and subversion,” he said, without naming the country in question.

Last month’s expulsion of the Rwandan executive had raised questions about whether the matter was linked to ongoing tensions between Uganda and Rwanda who regularly accuse each other of espionage.

“It was further discovered that the recently deported MTN managers were behind that infiltration by a foreign country and were in the habit of allowing third parties to hack into communication channels of senior government officials including State House,” he said.