MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless operator, asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS over a mobile-phone service deal in Iran, saying the core of the case has “no conceivable” connection to the U.S.
MTN, in a filing today in Washington, said Turkcell is improperly trying to use the Alien Tort Statute to bring a commercial dispute between a Turkish company and a South African company before a U.S. court. The 1789 law, usually cited in human rights and torture cases, gives U.S. courts jurisdiction in some instances to consider claims by foreigners for illegal conduct that occurred in another country.
“This is not a case about grave issues of universal international concern that the ATS addresses -- such as piracy and genocide,” according to MTN’s court filing. “This case is about one thing: Turkcell trying to get paid by a nonstate actor for an Iranian cellular telephone license that it claims it lost unfairly. We respectfully submit that a U.S. district court has no business deciding this dispute.”
Turkcell, which initially was awarded the Iranian mobile-phone license, sued its Johannesburg-based rival on March 28 for $4.2 billion in damages. The suit alleges 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.
The complaint includes numerous alleged internal MTN memos that detail the company’s efforts to win the Iranian business after losing the bid to Istanbul-based Turkcell in February 2004.
“This is far from a routine business dispute,” David Farber, a lawyer for Turkcell, said in an e-mail. “Contemporaneous documents and recent testimony clearly demonstrate MTN’s efforts to assist Iran’s nuclear program, and its attempt to facilitate Iranian arms sales in spite of the international embargo.”
Farber of Patton Boggs LLP in Washington said “advancing the nuclear ambitions of a rogue regime for commercial gain raises ‘grave issues of universal international concern.’”
The case is Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS v. MTN Group Ltd, 12-cv-479, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).