Yusuf Saloojee. Picture: TIMESLIVE
Yusuf Saloojee. Picture: TIMESLIVE

MTN has repeated its denial that it paid former SA ambassador to Iran Yusuf Saloojee to facilitate the cancellation of Turkcell’s Iranian cellphone licence.

Police in SA arrested Saloojee on corruption charges related to the awarding of a cellphone licence to MTN after it had initially been given to Turkcell. The case has been the subject of legal claims for several years by the Turkish company, which accuses MTN of paying bribes to South African and Iranian officials to secure 49% of Irancell Telecommunications Services in 2005, which gave it a licence to operate in the country.

MTN has always denied the charges, but Saloojee, 75, and now retired, is accused of earning R1.4m for his role in the deal. The money was allegedly used to buy a house in Pretoria, the Hawks say.

“MTN has consistently denied that there is any credible evidence that it promised ambassador Saloojee any money, or that ambassador Saloojee accepted money from MTN,” the company said in response to questions.

“The allegations against MTN and ambassador Saloojee appear to be based on the evidence of a single witness, Mr Chris Kilowan, a disgruntled former employee of MTN.

“His allegations in this regard have been roundly rejected by Lord Hoffmann, an independent and renowned international jurist who investigated the claims of Kilowan and Turkcell in 2013. In his findings, Lord Hoffmann was entirely satisfied that MTN neither promised nor paid anything to ambassador Saloojee.

"Ambassador Saloojee himself has repeatedly said that the money he received from Mr Kilowan was the result of a private loan arrangement as between him and Mr Kilowan, that he has repaid that loan to Mr Kilowan, and that this was a private matter as between the two of them that had nothing to do with MTN or anyone else.”

The former ambassador’s arrest may have implications for the outcome of Turkcell’s latest attempt to sue MTN, which was filed in the Johannesburg High Court in 2017. The Istanbul-based company is demanding $4.2bn in damages, plus interest, based on profit Turkcell says it could have made had it been able to keep the licence.

MTN shares reversed gains and traded 1.8% lower at R84.50 at the JSE’s close on Friday, valuing the company at R161bn. The stock has slumped more than 34% over the past 12 months. Iran is MTN’s second-biggest market, with about 44.5-million subscribers. The country has been a thorn in MTN’s side of late, as US-led sanctions prevent it from repatriating funds from there.

Turkcell first sued MTN in the US in 2012, but had to withdraw the claim after the US Supreme Court ruled that it could not be heard in that country. The case was filed in SA in 2013, but was delayed following objections by MTN and subsequent amendments.

Saloojee was granted bail by the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court and his case will be heard on April 17.

MTN is also facing legal claims in Nigeria, its biggest market, over the alleged nonpayment of $2bn of back taxes and the head of MTN’s Uganda division was deported on Thursday. Uganda deported the Belgian head of MTN’s local branch, making him the fourth employee to be kicked out of the country in 2018 .

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said Wim Vanhelleputte had been deported “over national security”. In a statement issued on Friday, MTN confirmed the deportation but said the company was not aware of the reasons for the move. 

With Bloomberg and AFP