The regulator also prohibited Milestone from using the shortcodes 29050 and 79079, pay bill numbers 521521, 9555700, and 955700.
By Clinton Ochieng
Executives of Airtel Kenya have propelled a fight against contempt of court charges which put them at risk of fines or jail terms after the mobile operator was drawn into a dispute between the Government and betting firm, SportPesa.
The dispute kicked off last year after the State-run Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) stopped Milestone from operating under the popular Sportpesa gaming brand, saying the trade name had been taken from its rightful owner Pevans East Africa Limited.
The regulator also prohibited Milestone from using the shortcodes 29050 and 79079, pay bill numbers 521521, 9555700, and 955700. Milestone challenged the decision and on December 3, 2020, obtained a court order allowing it to continue operating.
Airtel and BCLB officials, however, refused to reactivate the shortcodes and pay bill numbers encouraging the betting firm to return to court to press for contempt charges.
Airtel in its defense, however, said as a regulated entity it had an obligation to comply with directives of the regulator unless served with a court order suspending the directive.
Airtel’s legal manager, Lillian Mugo, revealed that on November 3, 2020, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and the BCLB wrote to the mobile phone operator, directing it to terminate the shortcodes/USSD codes and pay bill numbers issued to Pevans due to compliance issues pending the conclusion of investigations.
The mobile operator said the deactivated shortcodes and pay bill numbers were issued to Pevans and could not be transferred to Milestone.
Milestone moved to court seeking to have BCLB chairman Cyrus Maina and six other board members jailed for contempt of court. The betting company also wanted CA, Safaricom, and Airtel officials jailed for contempt.
BCLB wrote a letter to Milestone on December 4, a day after High Court judge Pauline Nyamweya forbid the regulator from taking any further action against the company, directing it to show cause why its bookmaker’s license should not be canceled.