Police in South Africa have detained the country’s former ambassador to Iran over allegations that he helped MTN Group acquire a 49% stake in Irancell in 2005.
The arrest of Yusuf Saloojee by the anti-corruption unit Hawks will be seized upon by Turkcell, which has long maintained that it should have been awarded the Irancell stake. The Turkish operator claims that MTN paid bribes to officials in Iran and South Africa in order to override this decision, allowing it to obtain the stake and thereby operate in Iran.
According to Bloomberg, Hawks has issued a statement alleging that Saloojee was paid ZAR1.4 million ($99,358) to engineer the cancellation of Turkcell’s Iranian licence. The country’s government went on to award this licence to MTN.
MTN has consistently protested its innocence of Turkcell’s allegations, refuting that “there is any credible evidence that it promised Ambassador Saloojee any money or that Ambassador Saloojee accepted money from MTN”.
The operator group noted that the only evidence connecting MTN and Saloojee is the testimony of Chris Kilowan, who it described as “a disgruntled former employee of MTN”. Nonetheless, Turkcell has filed several lawsuits over the matter, claiming damages of $4.2 billion in its most recent filing in 2017. The figure is based on its projected profits if it had received the licence, plus interest.