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MTN accused of terror support

MTN has been included in a lawsuit filed in the United States on behalf of Americans killed or wounded in Afghanistan, accusing it of making payments to the Taliban.

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MTN has issued a statement revealing that it is included in a complaint for violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on 27 December 2019.

The complaint was filed on behalf of American service members and civilians, and their families, who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2017.

MTN said in the statement: “The Complaint alleges that several Western businesses supported the Taliban by, inter alia, making payments to ensure the protection of their infrastructure. The defendants named in the complaint are six different groups one of which is MTN and certain of its subsidiary companies including MTN Afghanistan.”

MTN says it is reviewing the details of the report and is consulting its advisers. However, it says, it “remains of the view that it conducts its business in a responsible and compliant manner in all its territories and so intends to defend its position where necessary”.

According to Wikipedia, there were about 32-million mobile phone subscribers in Afghanistan in 2016, with the first two carriers having been US-based Afghan Wireless, and Roshan.

A duopoly agreement between these carriers and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) meant that no mobile operator could enter the Afghan telecom market until July 2006. The third GSM license was awarded to Areeba, a subsidiary of Lebanese firm Investcom, in September 2005 for a period of 15 years. MTN acquired Investcom for $5.53-billion in 2007, and Areeba was renamed MTN Afghanistan. In the last quarter of 2018, it reported having 6,257-million subscribers.

According to National Public Radio in the United States, the lawsuit states that the Taliban in 2005 began systematically approaching international businesses operating in Afghanistan, and offered them a choice: pay up, or else. 

“Defendants paid the Taliban to leave them alone,” the suit alleges. “The payments saved Defendants money: it was cheaper to buy off the Taliban than it would have been to invest in the security necessary to mitigate the terrorists’ threats.”

The Complaint includes the following detail: “Specifically, the Taliban asked MTN and its competitors to “pay monthly protection fees in each province, or face having their transmission towers attacked.”  The going rate was “usually in the range of $2,000 per tower, per month, but it depends on who controls the zone around each tower.” In some areas, MTN made payments to local Taliban commanders in exchange for protection from its fighters. In others – such as Helmand and Kandahar – MTN operated in a Taliban-controlled environment in which protection “payments must go directly to Quetta.”

MTN has also been accused of deactivating its cellular towers at night at the request of the Taliban, “which believed US forces were using the cellular networks to track insurgents”. 

The Complaint includes MTN Group, MTN Afghanistan and MTN Dubai. The full document can be viewed here: https://afghanistan.terrorismcase.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2019-12-27-001-COMPLAINT.pdf

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