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MTN’s Former CEO Nhleko Says Iran Bribery Allegations Untrue

Phuthuma Nhleko, former chief executive officer of MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless operator, said allegations that MTN paid bribes and promised votes in exchange for a license in Iran aren’t true.

“I can state quite categorically that during my tenure as group CEO of MTN, no bribes were authorized or paid by the MTN Group to any South African or Iranian government officials to secure the mobile license in Iran,” Nhleko said today in an e-mailed statement about Johannesburg-based MTN’s role in Iran. “The allegations made by Turkcell are far-fetched and without foundation.”

Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS alleged in a lawsuit, reported on March 29, that MTN bribed officials, arranged meetings between Iranian and South African leaders, and promised Iran weapons and United Nations votes in exchange for a license to provide mobile-phone service in the Islamic Republic. Turkcell, which was initially awarded the Iranian mobile-phone license, is suing MTN in federal court in Washington for $4.2 billion in damages.

“MTN’s conduct was not unlawful or corrupt and MTN was certainly not in a position where it could influence or fetter the decisions made by the South African government or any other sovereign state,” Nhleko said in the statement.

While MTN has said it will oppose the claim, the company may be investigated by South Africa’s Hawks police unit, the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times newspaper reported today, without identifying its sources. South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has also called for a criminal investigation into MTN’s activities in Iran.

The case is Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS v. MTN Group Ltd, 12-cv-479, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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