How power struggle, Katamba firing led to deportation on MTN CEO Vanhelleputte

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MTN CEO Wim Vanhelleputte was Thursday night deported; weeks after three of the company’s expatriate staff were expelled.

His deportation documents were signed by Internal Affairs Minister Gen. Jeje Odongo, hours after he had been held and grilled by security. He was briefly detained at Entebbe International Airport before he was taken for an SN Brussels flight to Belgium.

This website is aware that there has however been an intense ongoing investigation against more MTN staff for allegedly compromising National Security using their positions at the company.

The staff members being investigated as part of a classified investigation have since recorded statements with the Special Investigations.

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The investigations began in July 2018 after the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) raided their call centre in Mutundwe, a Kampala suburb last year and confiscated the company servers.

According to a source in Security circles, the government at the time had received intelligence information relating to Espionage, tax evasion and money laundering.

For the last six months, the collected data was being analyzed until a month ago when investigations started officially with the constitution of a team of personnel from Uganda Police Force Criminal Investigations, the Internal Security Organisation-ISO, the External Security Organisation-ESO and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence-CMI.

Before he was deported, CEO Vanhelleputte was summoned to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in a fresh investigation on the company’s dealings that are considered “prejudicial to national security”.

He was grilled and asked to answer charges that senior MTN Uganda staff, deported from the country last month were allowed access into the telecom’s system to carry on work remotely, apparently after attending an MTN Global leaders conference as part of the Ugandan staff delegation in Dubai a week ago.

A senior intelligence official on Wednesday intimated to this website that Mr. Vanhelleputte was summoned after intelligence got to know of the development, raising questions on why the deported officials should be allowed into a system on a territory where they are persona non grata.

MTN CEO deported over company’s dealings that are considered “prejudicial to national security”.

MTN Uganda had purged Mr Katamba, in the aftermath of the recent MTN Uganda’s troubles with the government, after he was, among others litanies, accused of leaking information that led to the deportation of senior company managers in question.

But it has emerged that Mr Katamba is staying put, sparking off a struggle with the CEO after tensions emerged following the latest CMI summons with Mr. Vanhelleputte accusing his senior manager of sabotage.

Mr Katamba who has headed the MTN legal department since 2002, last year came under pressure as his position came under review after the company lost several legal battles against staff in the criminal courts and several other regulatory issues with the Uganda Communications Commission.

Mr. Katamba was subsequently sidelined in negotiations for renewal of the operating license with the CEO Vanhelleputte taking the lead assisted by Board Chairman Mr. Charles Mbiire.

However, negotiations with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) hit a snag and this led to the intervention of President Museveni who issued a directive that MTN Uganda must pay the earlier assessed USD $ 100 million something that did not go well with MTN top honchos in South Africa.

Matters got heated up when it emerged that Mr. Katamba the hitherto Mr. Fix-it-all for MTN in Uganda had been sidelined in the license renewal negotiations yet as the company secretary and head of legal and regulatory affairs this should have been his stuff.

The bad blood between Mr. Vanhelleputte and Mr. Katamba has been in the making for the past one year.

Accordingly, in June 2018, MTN announced that Ms. Enid Edroma was joining as the new head of legal & regulatory affairs. It later emerged that the CEO timed when Mr. Katamba was on leave to announce the hiring of Ms. Enid Edroma. MTN Group intervened and Mr. Katamba was reinstated leaving Mr. Vanhalleputte ‘egg-faced’.

Insiders openly discuss that Mr. Katamba in MTN Business hitherto without any Sales Experience, he had been set-up for failure but he confounded doubters and proved to be a good salesman with MTN Business emerging the best performing department recording a 16% growth in 2018. Both MTN and Mr Katamba have declined comment for this story.

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But a senior official in MTN Uganda has intimated that Mr Katamba remains a problem for the CEO as he cannot be fired summarily. Both the CEO and Board Chairman Mr. Charles Mbiire were already under Group pressure for mismanaging the license renewal negotiations wondering why MTN Uganda would be asked to pay ten times the amount Airtel Uganda is being asked to renew its license.

MTN Uganda problems escalated three weeks ago after the Uganda Police deported senior officials Olivier Printout, a French national, and Ms Annie Tabura, a Rwandan, to France and Rwanda respectively, for allegedly engaging in activities that threaten national security. Ms Elsa Mussolini, the MTN mobile money general manager, was also deported back to Italy after being grilled by the Uganda police Special Investigations Division (SID) in Kireka, near Kampala.

The telecom giants are currently operating on a temporary licence after President Museveni insisted they should be charged USD 100 million before their operating licence is renewed.

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