Ivory Coast has expelled the local head of MTN, Africa’s biggest mobile company, after he was caught up in an alleged attempt to extort nearly $130,000 from the company, MTN and local officials said on Tuesday.
According to the Interior Ministry, a secretary of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo duped MTN CEO Aimable Mpore into paying 65.5 million CFA francs ($129,600), supposedly so Gbagbo could provide an ambulance to treat victims of a food poisoning outbreak.
A spokesman for Gbagbo’s presidency told state television last week that the secretary had been arrested after the incident was uncovered.
However, the ministry said Mpore had discredited Ivory Coast’s institutions by recording the payment in company accounts as a “gift to the head of state” and gave him five days from last Thursday to leave the country.
“As a consequence of this incident, Ivory Coast CEO Aimable Mpore has had to leave the country after being asked to do so by the Government of the Republic of Ivory Coast,” MTN said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Interior Ministry said Mpore had initially rejected a request for money from the secretary but, after receiving a second letter on presidency-headed paper, had made the payment.
In its statement, MTN apologised to Gbagbo but said it still had confidence in Mpore, a Rwandan, who the company said was the victim of the “identity fraud”, not an accomplice in it.
MTN operates in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and and the Middle East, where the company says it has some 80.7 million subscribers.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower and a minor producer of oil and coffee, has long been a regional economic powerhouse, but it is mired in a crisis sparked by a brief 2002-2003 war which divided the country in two.