MTN Iran deal inquiry
THE Hawks have launched an investigation into allegations that cellphone giant MTN paid bribes to secure a multibillion-dollar operating licence in Iran.
MTN has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying it has zero tolerance for corruption.
It has also been alleged that Chris Kilowan, a former MTN executive, has admitted to bribing Yusuf Salojee, South Africa's former ambassador to Iran, to assist in the acquisition of the licence.
Kilowan reportedly testified for Turkcell, a Turkish cellphone company, in its suit against MTN in the Columbia District Court in the US last month.
Kilowan testified that MTN's former head of North African and Middle Eastern operations, Irene Charnley, approved the alleged bribe.
DA MP David Maynier sai d yesterday that Hawks head Anwa Dramat had tol d him on Monday the unit was investigating the MTN deal. Maynier requested an investigation in March.
"This followed allegations that Phuthuma Nhleko, former CEO of the MTN group, with the assistance of a small group of senior employees, engaged in what was referred to as 'unprecedented corrupt acts' to win the operating licence in Iran, in a scheme known as 'Project Snooker'," Maynier said.
This included claims that MTN paid Javid Ghorbanoghli, Iran's former deputy foreign minister, $400000 and $200000 to Salojee.
MTN also allegedly financed Iran's nuclear negotiation chief Hassan Rowhani's trip to meet former president Thabo Mbeki to discuss South Africa's position on Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Maynier said he was told the Hawks investigation would take time to finalise because part of it would have to be conducted outside South Africa and would require "formal mutual legal assistance proceedings". "If these allegations are true, they suggest that MTN may have been involved in corrupt activity in trying to secure a mobile operating licence in Iran in possible contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. These very serious allegations cannot simply be investigated by an independent committee within the MTN group."
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela confirmed yesterday that the investigation had been launched.
"It's early stages," was all he said.
MTN spokesman Xolisa Vapi said it would cooperate fully with authorities. "As we have previously noted, MTN has zero tolerance for corrupt or unethical practices.
"The MTN board has appointed the [UK jurist Lord Leonard] Hoffmann committee to conduct an independent investigation of Turkcell's allegations, and that investigation is continuing," said Vapi.