Africa’s largest telecommunications company is facing allegations that it paid of terrorist groups in order to protect their business interests in Afghanistan.
MTN is the eighth largest telecommunications company in the world operating in 22 countries. They have three operations in the Middle East, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
In 2006 a telecoms company called Areeba (Investcom) launched in Afghanistan and had user base of 200 000 by years end. In May 2006 MTN announced a USD$5.53 Billion takeover of Investcom. MTN acquired all of Investcom’s holdings and investments in Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Sudan (before the split), Yemen and Afghanistan.
This happened in the 5th year of the United Stated led invasion of Afghanistan following the events of September 11, 2001.
December 27th 2019 a lawsuit was lodged to United States District Court in the District of Columbia by a group of US Law firms on behalf of 385 Americans. The parties represented includes families of US servicemen and women injured or killed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban between 2009 and 2017.
MTN along with a number of US firms are being accused of paying the Taliban and Al-Qaeda money so that their installations and business interests wouldn’t be targetted.
“According to the plaintiffs, MTN made protection payments to the Taliban from 2006 when it entered the market. Referencing newspaper articles, the lawsuit states that the protection payments were in the region of $2 000 per cell tower per month. The plaintiffs say the mobile operator has around 1 300 cellphone towers in the country.”News24.
The plaintiffs say that MTN choosing to pay Al-Qaeda and the Taliban over investing in security to protect its cell towers.
MTN is also alleged to have deactivated its cell towers during the evening at the request of the Taliban. This according to the plaintiffs disrupted the effectiveness of US Counter Intelligence.
In April 2020 MTN filed a motion to have the case dismissed.
“As stated in the formal written document submitted to the U.S. court by MTN’s legal counsel, entitled a “motion to dismiss,” MTN requested the court to end the lawsuit and grant a judgment in MTN’s favour for two independent reasons: because the court lacks jurisdiction over MTN, which does not operate in the United States, and because the complaint does not allege any conduct by MTN that would have violated the Anti-Terrorism Act. Under U.S. law and procedures, MTN is not permitted at this stage of the lawsuit to challenge or contest the factual allegations made against the company, so the motion to dismiss focuses on the lack of jurisdiction and the legal insufficiency of the claims.”MTN.
A New Amended Lawsuit
“The new, amended complaint, filed on Friday by Washington-based law firms, alleges MTN’s “conduct targeted the United States” by executing a strategy reliant on dominating markets in unstable countries not allied with Washington.”Reuters.
MTN according to Reuters is consulting it legal counsel and will most likely seek another motion to dismiss the case.