Soldiers’ death: MTN faces litigation over alleged Taliban bribes

Web Editor | ConsumerConnect

 Again, for apparent social corporate irresponsibility in placing business benefits ahead of public interest, the South African wireless carrier, MTN Group Limited, has been sued in the United States (US) for purportedly paying bribes to stop Taliban fighters blowing up its cellphone towers in Afghanistan.

Bloomberg reports that families of almost 150 US service members and civilians who were killed or wounded in attacks are accusing Johannesburg-based MTN of paying Taliban officials protection money.

The plaintiffs so alleged the MTN didn’t have to invest in costly security for the transmission masts, according to a court document.

Africa’s largest wireless carrier chose to be an “aggressive practitioner of protection payments,” according to the suit.

It also alleged that MTN provided material support to the Taliban by deactivating its cell towers at the insurgent group’s request.

MTN is one of six contractors included in the claim, which seeks unspecified damages for the families under a U.S. anti-terrorism law.

In a statement Monday, December 30, 2019, MTN said it was reviewing the details of the report “but remains of the view that it conducts its business in a responsible and compliant manner in all its territories.”

The company “intends to defend its position where necessary,” it added.

The source disclosed that MTN has opted over the years to enter parts of the world seen as too risky by many other carriers — countries such as Syria, Iran and South Sudan. That’s left it vulnerable to legal entanglements, unpredictable politics and regulatory crackdowns that have hit its share price.

MTN shares have declined 6.2% this year, compared with a 10% gain by the FTSE/JSE Africa Top40 Index. The stock was down 0.9% as of 4:49 p.m. on Monday, in Johannesburg.

The telecom carrier has also faced several setbacks in Nigeria, its biggest market, for what many have described as “irresponsible behaviours” in flouting the regulator’s guidelines and endangering the lives of the telecom consumers.

Accordingly, the Nigerian authorities have levied fines over issues ranging from non-payment of back taxes to missing a deadline to disconnect unregistered subscribers that the government said included Boko Haram Islamist insurgents.

Even MTN’s home market of South Africa reportedly “has become more problematic of late,” as regulators demand lower data prices to help the industry’s poorer consumers.

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