MTN’s Liberia Partner Hit with Collusion Claims

South African telecommunications company MTN is now entangled in allegations that its joint venture partner in Liberian telecommunications company Lonestar Cell MTN, PLC Investment Limited is a financial vehicle for convicted warlord Charles Taylor’s wealth.

Last week the UN Security Council announced the delisting of various former allies of Taylor from its assets freeze and travel ban list. Benoni Urey, partner and shareholder in PLC, was not included in this delisting exercise but instead is at the centre of the UN investigation into the various human rights violations that occurred during Liberia’s 14 year long civil war.

The UN believes that Taylor owns up to 40% of PLC while PLC owns 40% of Lonestar Cell MTN, effectively giving Taylor an indirect stake in Lonestar. Based on the potential stake Taylor has in the investment company, PLC have been asked by the UN to open its books to investigators however it has been reported that PLC have continuously refused.

Lonestar Cell MTN, which has been operating in Liberia for 10 years and is the leading cellular phone network in the country, has told the press that the bans placed on Urey did not affect the company or MTN’s relationship with Urey.

That’s not to say their relationship is a close one. MTN have long been concerned with Urey’s political profile. Just last year MTN’s chief risk and governance executive, Shauket Fakie, and Ahmad Farroukh, MTN’s vice-president for West, East and Central Africa, wrote a letter of concern to Urey last year. They wrote:

“We would like to express our concern on recent developments which are causing fundamental reputational damage to Lonestar Communications Corporation, or Lonestar Company.

“All directors of Lonestar have a ­fiduciary duty to act in the interests of the company (and accordingly not cause reputational damage to the company).”

A major concern pointed out in the letter was that of Urey’s political involvement. They state that while MTN recognises Urey’s “right to freedom of political association . . . However, there are limitations to the manner in which that right can be exercised.”

Despite the investigations into Urey, MTN spokesperson Xolisa Vapi has stated that as far as MTN are aware, they are “not under scrutiny concerning its partnership with Lonestar.”

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