South Africa-based regional mobile operator MTN Group’s Liberian subsidiary, MTN Liberia (trading under the Lonestar Cell brand), has become embroiled in allegations that it may be a financial vehicle for convicted warlord Charles Taylor. An unconfirmed newspaper report from City Press writes that MTN Liberia’s chairperson Benoni Urey has been named by the United Nations (UN) as an accomplice of the former Liberian president and war criminal Talyor. Last week the UN Security Council delisted a number of former Taylor associates from its so-called ‘assets-freeze’ and ‘travel-ban list’, but did not strike off Urey’s name from the list. The MTN Liberia official’s name remains in a UN-compiled report into human rights violations in the 14-year civil war.
The UN has withdrawn its travel ban and asset freeze on Emmanuel Shaw, Urey’s shareholder and partner in PLC Investment Limited which owns a 40% stake in MTN Liberia, but crucially, not for Urey. A spokesperson for the cellco told City Press that the bans have been in place for several years and do not materially affect the carrier. The remaining 60% of MTN Liberia is owned by MTN Group through its Dubai-based subsidiary, Investcom. It is understood that PLC Investment has been asked to submit its shareholder structure and open up its books to UN investigators amid suspicions that MTN Liberia is in some way providing financial support to Taylor. UN officials believe the war criminal may own 40% of PLC, giving him an indirect link to Lonestar Cell, Liberia’s leading mobile operator by subscribers.