MTN says asset seizure in Cameroon threatens operations

DOUALA, June 14 (Reuters) – South African mobile operator MTN Group (MTNJ.J) said on Wednesday that its Cameroon operations were threatened by the seizure of its bank accounts in the country as part of a dispute in which it plays no part.

MTN Cameroon’s accounts with more than 14 billion CFA francs ($22 million) have been frozen by Cameroon court order since September 2022, as the company was brought into a loan dispute by a Cameroonian businessman, MTN said.

Following a court decision on June 9, the funds were to be transferred into an escrow account managed by the court registrar, MTN Cameroon CEO Mitwa Ng’ambi told a press conference in Douala on Wednesday.

“A threat to our operations is a threat to everything we have built in service to Cameroon over the last 23 years,” she said, adding that the company will use “all possible means to put an end to the imminent miscarriage of justice”.

MTN is Africa’s largest mobile carrier and its Cameroon subsidiary has one of the biggest networks in the country, with over 12 million users.

Ng’ambi said the matter has caused difficulties in paying service providers and employees and could hurt MTN’s more than 800 Cameroonian employees and an additional 200,000 people who work for suppliers and others.

The controversy stems from a dispute between Cameroonian business mogul Ahmadou Baba Danpullo and South Africa’s First National Bank (FNB) (FSRJ.J) over a real estate loan, said MTN’s Ng’ambi.

After the bank liquidated a number of properties belonging to Danpullo in South Africa, the businessman retaliated by having a Cameroonian court freeze the accounts of South African companies including MTN and Chococam, owned by Tiger Brands, she said.

Melvin Akam, MTN Cameroon general manager of regulatory and corporate affairs, said the seizure of the company’s accounts was “abusive, fraudulent and unacceptable.”

A spokesperson for Danpullo’s company, the Baba Danpullo Group, declined to comment.

South Africa’s foreign ministry on Tuesday urged company executives to continue pursuing all legal avenues available.

“Unfortunately, these latest developments will challenge the extent and appetite for investments into Cameroon,” it said.

($1 = 628.7500 CFA francs)

Reporting by Amindeh Blaise Atabong; Editing by Nellie Peyton, Bate Felix and Cynthia Osterman

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