13 December 2012

Uganda: Judge Cancels Criminal Summons for Top MTN Executives

Justice Lameck Nsubuga-Mukasa of the Kampala High Court crime division has cancelled criminal summons earlier issued by the lower Buganda Road Magistrate's Court against 13 top MTN executives including chairman Charles Mbiire who are accused of tax evasion.

On November 19, Chief Magistrate Sylvia Nabaggala issued criminal summons, ordering the 13 officials to appear in court. They were expected to appear at the magistrate's court Wednesday. However, none of them turned up, not even their lawyers. Nabaggala was reportedly unwell, and was not at her duty station.

The telecom giant has since dismissed the tax evasion claims as baseless. In a statement issued last month, MTN Uganda chief executive officer Mazen Mroue said that Were had embezzled $4.1m(aboutsh10.2b) and that he had failed to pay, explaining why he was mudslinging them.

The other accused are Mroue, head corporate and legal Anthony Katamba. Those based in South Africa are executive directors Khumo Sheunyane and Mosipho Molope, CEO MTN Group Sifiso Dabengwa, vice presidents Christian de Faria, and Ignasius Sehoole.

Also implicated are Francois Terffoute, Meryvin Immelman, Mozipho January Bardil, Mike Blackburn, and Nigel Williams.

The case arose in October when ex-MTN procurement boss Naphtali Were commenced private prosecution against the MTN executives, purporting they had evaded taxes to the tune of over sh70b.

In his ruling delivered on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Nsubuga-Mukasa, stated that since the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had already taken over the investigations, the summons ceased to be effective.

"The proceedings were taken over the DPP and it was therefore erroneous for the learned chief magistrate on 19 November 2012 to seal an order extracted by M/S WEB advocates and solicitors who were counsel for the complainant," the judge stated.

He however okayed the DPP taking over the investigations of the purported tax evasion.

The court's resident state attorney, Martin Rukundo, informed chief magistrate number two Eleanor Khainza, that the complainant had not given the DPP the necessary documents, as earlier directed by Nabaggala.

Rukundo said under the circumstances, the DPP had not been able to prepare a charge sheet, detailing the offences preferred against the 13. Accordingly, proceedings were adjourned to next year February 4.

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