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MTN

MTN

Industry: 
Telecommunications
Symbol: 
JNB:MTN
Country: 
South Africa
Contact Information: 
Sources: 

“MTN, Africa's largest cellular operator, is still in talks with US authorities on ways to repatriate R5.5 billion earned from its MTN Irancell operation. Funds from what is its second-largest operation have been blocked since early 2012, because of Washington's sanctions against Tehran. The sanctions were imposed as the US believed the country was developing a nuclear programme. MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa says there is US legislation that is difficult to get around. He explains this is related to the transfer of funds out of Iran, because it produces oil. ‘When you negotiate with governments, you work at their pace.’ The group has been in talks to find a means of repatriating its funds for several months. Last August, Dabengwa said it was working through a mechanism that he hoped would provide a resolution by December. MTN Irancell performed satisfactorily in the year to December and grew its subscriber base 2.2%, to 41.4 million, its results this morning showed. It says the ‘subdued’ growth was because of high levels of mobile penetration and increased competition…MTN Irancell grew revenue 18.3% in local currency, a figure that has been adjusted for hyperinflation. Outgoing voice revenue gained 15.8%, while data income – excluding SMSes – leapt 60.2% and now accounts for 10.3% of total revenue, which is despite the operator's lack of a 3G licence, says MTN. However, the margin was impacted by the depreciation of the Iranian Rial and declined 1.4 percentage points. MTN has renegotiated some contract terms with vendors to mitigate the impact of costs incurred in foreign currency. MTN owns 49% of the unit, which has a market share of 46.5%, in a market with 101 million connections. During the year, it invested R1.8 billion to roll out 746 new 2G sites and 415km of fibre, ‘improving the quality and capacity of the network.” Meanwhile, MTN is continuing to defend a lawsuit brought against it by Turkcell, which claims MTN acted illegally in order to have the Iran GSM licence awarded to it. The group says it has filed a notice to defend the matter and is now awaiting clarity on some issues contained in Turkcell's summons. The latest attempt by Turkcell was issued out of the South Gauteng High Court towards the end of last year and seeks damages of $4.2 billion, plus interest and legal costs. Like the four previous cases, this matter emanates from Turkcell's alleged grievances arising from its unsuccessful bid to obtain a mobile licence in Iran, and the award of that licence to Irancell. Turkcell and MTN have been involved in a legal wrangle over Iran's first cellphone licence for some time, after Turkcell claimed the Johannesburg-based company used bribery to win a mobile licence in Iran that was first awarded to Turkcell…MTN has said three of the lawsuits brought by Turkcell and its subsidiary, East Asian Consortium, have already been dismissed, including one against MTN and MTN International. The latest lawsuit is ‘premised on substantially the same unfounded allegations, which were made in the US proceedings.’ It says: ‘We view this as nothing but a spurious attempt to claim monies to which Turkcell is not entitled.’” (IT Web, “MTN has R5.5bn stuck in Iran,” 3/5/14)

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"Better U.S.-Iranian relations would be very welcome for South African mobile phone operator MTN Group (MTNJ.J) as it has been unable to repatriate around $450 million from a unit in Iran due to sanctions, a company spokesman said. Johannesburg-based MTN, Africa's largest mobile phone operator, said its funds had been blocked since early last year because of Washington's sanctions against Tehran. 'Our primary focus remains to ensure that we are sanction-compliant with everything we do there,' said spokesman Nik Kershaw. 'But obviously it would be a great outcome if things did improve.' MTN owns 49 percent of local unit MTN Irancell, which contributed nearly 10 percent of its 2012 revenue. Iran's Ghanoon newspaper on Tuesday quoted MTN Irancell executive Alireza Ghalambar Dezfouli as saying MTN had been unable to repatriate around $450 million from Iran." (Reuters, "South Africa's MTN hopes for U.S.-Iran thaw to free its cash," 11/27/13)

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"Turkish mobile phone company Turkcell has taken to a South African court with its $4.2 billion lawsuit against rival MTN Group, alleging it was the victim of corruption and bribery that caused it to lose a contract in Iran. Turkcell originally pursued the case against Johannesburg-based MTN in the United States but dropped it in May after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a separate case made clear that U.S. courts would not have jurisdiction in a claim involving two foreign firms in an overseas dispute. In papers filed on Tuesday with the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg and seen by Reuters, Turkcell says that MTN, former CEO and current Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko and former executive Irene Charnley 'acted wrongfully' and interfered with Turkcell's relationship with the Iranian government over the granting of a mobile licence in 2005. Turkcell accuses Africa's largest mobile operator of 'corrupt acts' - including promises of bribes and the giving of gifts to Iranian and South African government officials - to secure the licence. It also alleges that MTN promised to influence the South African government's vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear programme in 2005 and 2006. MTN said in a statement: 'Although we don't have details of the case, MTN continues to believe that there is no legal merit to Turkcell's claim and will accordingly oppose it'…MTN owns 49 percent of MTN Irancell, a joint venture with a consortium controlled by the Iranian government…With a market value of $36 billion, it is the second-largest company with a primary listing in Johannesburg." (Reuters, "Turkcell sues MTN in South Africa for $4.2 bln in Iran damages," 11/27/13)

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"MTN Group Ltd. (MTN), Africa’s largest wireless operator, cut its full-year target for new subscribers as regulations limited growth and customer numbers fell in Iran. The company reduced its goal for net additional subscribers in 2013 by 9 percent to 19.1 million, Nik Kershaw, head of investor relations, said by phone today. MTN Irancell’s customer base contracted 1.7 percent to 41.3 million because of a weakening economy in the Middle East country and the withdrawal of a sim card promotion, he said…MTN shares fell as much as 2.3 percent and traded 1.4 percent lower at 198.29 rand as of 12:30 p.m. in Johannesburg. The company, which operates in more than 20 countries including Syria and Afghanistan, is reviewing its cost base in South Africa and may eliminate jobs, the company said in August. MTN has made progress on repatriating about $450 million from its Iranian unit that’s been subject to U.S. sanctions, Kershaw said in the phone interview. 'We continue to engage with the relevant authorities around that,' he said. 'It’s something very difficult to forecast. We are making some progress but it’s a long process.'" (Bloomberg, "MTN Cuts Subscriber Target as Iran Customer Numbers Fall," 10/24/13)

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"Better U.S.-Iranian relations would be very welcome for South African mobile phone operator MTN Group as it has been unable to repatriate around $450 million from a unit in Iran due to sanctions, a company spokesman said…'Our primary focus remains to ensure that we are sanction-compliant with everything we do there,' said spokesman Nik Kershaw. 'But obviously it would be a great outcome if things did improve.' MTN owns 49 percent of local unit MTN Irancell, which contributed 24 percent of its 2012 revenue. Iran's Ghanoon newspaper on Tuesday quoted MTN Irancell executive Alireza Ghalambar Dezfouli as saying MTN had been unable to repatriate around $450 million from Iran…Around $120 million of that is dividends owed to MTN with the remainder made up of loans due to be repaid to the South African company, he said." (Reuters, "South Africa's MTN hopes for U.S.-Iran thaw to free its cash," 10/22/13)

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"TELECOMS operator MTN has a big legal dispute on its hands stemming from its decision to suspend senior executive Robert Madzonga. Mr Madzonga’s suspension follows the resignation of group chief financial officer Nazir Patel last month, understood to be linked to governance lapses related to MTN’s Iran business. It is a setback in the group’s effort to restore its reputation after claims last year that it bribed officials in Iran to score a license." (Business Times, "MTN caught up in legal challenges," 10/25/13)

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"New York-based lobby group against Iran, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which has been calling for Sasol and MTN to stop doing business in Iran for quite some time, applauded Sasol for ending its business in the Islamic republic…Meanwhile, another SA conglomerate, telecommunications group MTN, which entered the contentious Iranian market in 2005, has not been able to repatriate any funds from the country since early last year. President and MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa told the media at the group’s interim results presentation in Johannesburg recently that his firm has been in talks with the US Treasury, the US Sate Department, as well as the South African Reserve Bank in order to find a solution to this matter, and was of the belief that that resolution would be reached before the end of the year…Moreover, the Department of International Relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela confirmed to Finweek that South Africa maintains a friendly relationship with Iran, even though the international sanctions imposed against the country have made trade increasingly difficult." (Finweek, “In or out! SA maintains friendly relations with Iran,” 8/28/13) 

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"Mobile communications firm MTN Group Ltd. said Wednesday it's still in discussions with U.S. authorities over how the company can take profits from its business in Iran out of the country. MTN has a 49% stake in Iran's second largest mobile phone operator, but since early last year, the company said it hasn't been able to repatriate profits because of sanctions against the country." (Dow Jones, "MTN Group Says Still In Talks With US Over Iran Profits," 8/14/2013) 

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"The year-long internal investigation led by UK judge Lord Leonard Hoffmann dismissed allegations brought by rival Turkcell that MTN had got its Iranian licence through corrupt means. Turkcell has since dropped its US$4,2bn law suit but the sudden departure of MTN finance chief Nazir Patel has brought the matter to the fore again. According to the Sunday Times, his resignation relates to attempts to get money out of the country. But despite the cloud hanging over it , the Iranian operation has been a great investment for the mobile operator. It contributes 10% of MTN's total revenue and the company holds 47% of the Persian market. Cash flow problems brought on by US sanctions against Iran regarding its nuclear programme, however, have raised doubts about whether the group can afford to remain there. MTN says it will stay as long as the SA government allows it to but that the sanctions are making it difficult to move money in and out of the country , or access debt facilities and buy equipment. US and European Union financial institutions won't allow it. MTN stated in its 2012 annual report that it had cash of about R7bn on hand which it could not transfer because of the sanctions imposed on Iran and Syria. The company also stated that it was looking for 'acceptable channels that are compliant with applicable sanctions for repatriation of these funds' . . . If MTN had the benefit of hindsight, looking at how well it has performed there, it would probably still have gone into the country, says Spiwe Chireka, programme manager at International Data Corp . . . Those worried that the Iranian operationwill drag down MTN's valuation need not fret. 'Most valuations I've seen exclude Iran,' says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Masego Mbaakanyi. This does not mean there's no chance of exiting Iran. 'There is a possibility, if the status quo does not improve,' says Chireka. She says the decision to leave would likely be driven by its inability to bring cash back to SA. 'The problem is that's beyond its control. If it were an operational issue, it could still do something about it.'" (FA, "MTN in Iran: should they stay or go?" 8/8/13)

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"The shock resignation of MTN’s finance chief, Nazir Patel, this week stems from how he allegedly broke the cellular giant’s procedures by diverting money out of MTN’s thriving business in the pariah state of Iran. In an almost unprecedented move among blue chip companies, the cellular company revealed on Monday that Mr Patel had resigned 'with immediate effect' after a preliminary investigation had apparently highlighted numerous governance breaches. MTN revealed nothing more at the time, sparking speculation over what he had done, and sending the share price 2% lower this week... MTN tried to put on a brave face by immediately announcing Brett Goschen as Mr Patel’s replacement and pledging that it would have 'no impact' on its financials. But Business Times has established that the investigation into Mr Patel revolved around how he allegedly broke MTN’s procedures in transferring its cash out of Iran through Dubai. Investigative teams in Dubai and Iran are understood to be scrutinising the case, and have handed a draft report to the board. It is the second scandal to emanate from MTN’s Iranian business. Sixteen months ago, Chris Kilowan, the former head of MTN’s Iran business, testified that the company had lavished bribes on Iranian ministers, as well as South Africa’s former ambassador to the country, Yusuf Saloojee, to grab Iran’s second cellular licence in 2007 from rival Turkcell. Though an internal commission headed by former Judge Leonard Hoffmann cleared MTN, a KPMG audit flagged a number of 'gifts' to the Iranians, including diamond cufflinks and expensive hotel stays. Details remain sketchy about this new scandal, though MTN executive Paul Norman said no illegal activity had yet been flagged. 'At this stage, there is no indication that money has gone missing, and it’s not as if anything that happened was illegal or broke any international sanctions. It’s just that there are certain governance issues that may not have been followed,' he said. Mr Norman said the company decided to accept Mr Patel’s resignation, though the investigation was not conclusive, so that there 'would be no sense of a cloud of suspicion hanging around.'  'It’s too early to say if he would have faced a disciplinary, but ultimately, it would have been tough for him to fulfil his role if he’d stayed, given this process,' Mr Norman said. MTN has faced a huge headache in seeking to get dividends out of Iran because stringent sanctions prevent banks from moving cash easily in and out of the country. MTN, which plans to spend R28bn this year to expand its network infrastructure, was virtually printing money in Iran, where it has a 46% share of the market. Last year, MTN Irancell collected R24bn in revenue, making R10.6bn in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation — a healthy profit margin of 44%. CEO Sifiso Dabengwa has spoken repeatedly about the company’s desire to come up with ways to repatriate up to R1.2bn of cash trapped in Iran, which entailed tough negotiations with Iran’s central bank as well as US authorities. 'It is not as if [Mr Patel] did anything which, the way we understand it now, was motivated by malice,' said Mr Norman. The company said it hadn’t done a lifestyle audit on him... 'The feedback I’ve been receiving from inside the company is that he hasn’t been caught with his hands in the kitty, and that the investigation is related to a corporate governance issue which won’t have an impact on MTN’s financials,' one analyst said... Over the last four years, MTN paid Mr Patel more than R37m in salaries and bonuses alone." (Business Day Live, "Iran Deals Forced MTN Boss to Quit," 7/28/2013)

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"It is a saga that illustrates the extraordinary risks MTN has taken to profit from doing business with pariah states and poor countries with limited infrastructure... MTN has also been a target of campaigns by United Against Nuclear Iran, an anti-Iran lobby group in the US, which comprises several high-profile figures including James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, and Mark Wallace, former US ambassador to the UN, as well as AccessNow, an advocacy group. 'Even more troubling are reports that Iranian security officials are given open access to subscriber details at MTN Irancell's Tehran headquarters which have been used to acquire information on democracy activists,' the lobby group wrote in aJune 6 letter to Sifiso Dabengwa, MTN's chief executive. MTN denies the allegations. But with 50 per cent of its shares held by foreign investors - 18 per cent of them American - it is alert to the need to protect its international reputation... There have been other financial ramifications. The telecoms group has been unable to repatriate dividends from Syria because the legislation to transfer the funds does not exist in that country. MTN still needs to repatriate a €300m loan from Irancell. Western sanctions have prevented MTN from repatriating funds from Iran and have eaten into delivery supplies, slowing some projects. Even though MTN has numerous hedging instruments in place, the collapse in the currencies of the two countries has had a serious impact on the group's 2012 results. Earnings per share for the full year rose just 1.9 per cent to 1,089 cents, partly weighed down by currency depreciations in Iran and Syria.” (Financial Times, "Telecoms: Dealings in the Danger Zone," 7/2/13)

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“The Democratic Alliance has raised further questions relating to MTN‘s operations in Iran, which have come under immense scrutiny since initial claims of bribery were brought against the mobile operator by Turkcell in early 2012. In July 2012, South Africa suspended Yusuf Saloojee, its former ambassador to Tehran, pending an investigation into his ties to MTN. Saloojee was named in a Turkcell suit against MTN for allegedly taking a $200,000 bribe from the SA mobile operator to help it win an operating license in Iran…MTN has a 49% stake in Irancell – the group that was awarded the 2nd Iranian GSM licence. Turkcell was a rival bidder for the licence. The Turkish operator eventually dropped its $4.2 billion US lawsuit against MTN in May, citing a recent US Supreme Court ruling that hurt its case. Turkcell had originally claimed that MTN made ‘improper payments to an Iranian and a South African government official,’ during 2004 and 2005. (Business Tech, “MTN in Iran: DA wants more answers,” 6/24/13)

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“MTN’s 49% stake in privately held Irancell, the second-largest cellular network operator in Iran, contributed about 11% of both proportional group revenue and proportional earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in financial 2012.  This exposed Africa’s largest mobile operator to fallout from the effects of the punitive economic measures against Iran led by the US, and involving the European Union countries.” (Business Day, New leader in Iran may offer respite to MTN, Sasol,” 6/19/13)

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"Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS (TCELL) withdrew a lawsuit against MTN Group Ltd. (MTN) over bribes MTN allegedly paid to get an Iranian mobile-phone license, citing a Supreme Court decision that bars such cases in the U.S. Turkcell, based in Istanbul, told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in a court filing today in Washington that it would drop the case because of the Supreme Court's ruling last month on the Alien Tort Statute. The case had been on hold while the Supreme Court decision was pending. Turkcell, Turkey's biggest mobile-phone company, sued its Johannesburg-based rival in March 2012 for $4.2 billion in damages over the loss of the Iranian license it was initially awarded. Turkcell claimed MTN, Africa's largest mobile-phone operator, 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 wireless service in the Islamic Republic." (Bloomberg, "Turkcell Dismisses Suit Against MTN over Iran License," 5/1/13)

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"MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone operator, reported full-year earnings that missed analysts’ estimates, weighed down by foreign-exchange losses and increased spending on networks. Adjusted earnings per share climbed to 10.89 rand from 10.69 rand a year earlier, Johannesburg-based MTN said today in a statement... Exchange-rate moves, including the decline of the Syrian pound, Iranian rial and Sudanese pound against the rand curbed adjusted earnings per share by 1.79 rand, according to MTN, which operates in 22 African and Middle Eastern markets. Capital spending rose 70 percent to 30.1 billion rand ($3.32 billion) as MTN upgraded networks to handle more data traffic as consumers access the Internet from mobile devices... MTN has 'done well in adding networks in South Africa and Nigeria,' Dabengwa said. 'It’s very important, in order to compete effectively, to improve network coverage.'...  MTN shares fell 1.3 percent to 177.33 rand by the 5 p.m. close in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 334 billion rand. With the likes of Iran, Sudan and Syria there is some pressure in that the true earnings value is affected when you come to take your money out,' said Bruce Main, a fund manager at Ivy Asset Management Ltd., which owns MTN stock... Subscriber numbers rose 15 percent to 189.3 million last year, MTN said... MTN is 'quite comfortable' that risks posed by a lawsuit brought against it by Turkcell Hetism AS have been minimized, Dabengwa said. Turkey's biggest mobile-phone operator sued MTN for $4.2 billion in damages for alleged bribery last March after losing out on an Iranian mobile license. MTN paid 300 million rand in related costs in 2012, Chief Financial Officer Nazir Patel said today." (Bloomberg, "MTN Earnings Miss Estimates on Network Spend, Currency Loss," 3/6/2013)

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"A United States computer salesperson who supplied sensitive and potentially 'dangerous' equipment to MTN's mobile network in Iran has been jailed for violating United States economic sanctions. The conviction is damning for the South African mobile giant, as it provides judicial corroboration that the company used sanctions-busting networks to beef up its technical infrastructure in Iran. The salesperson's alleged co-conspirator is also on trial in the US on charges that he serviced embargoed US technology for a 'front company' of MTN Irancell. MTN has denied complicity in sanctions busting after detailed allegations last year that it dodged embargoes by routing high-end computer equipment through a network of Middle Eastern companies... Jailed for four years, the salesperson, Mohammad Hajian, an Iranian-born US citizen, tried to have his sentenced reduced by telling a US court in October last year that he sold super-computers worth about $14-million to 'a South African cellphone company in Iran [a reference to MTN]', rather than to the regime itself. Prosecutors told the district court in Tampa, Florida, that the equipment sold to MTN Irancell in 2009 could have military applications and be used to spy on citizens." (Mail & Guardian, "US Trial turns heat on MTN," 2/15/13)

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"Lord Leonard Hoffmann insisted in his report to MTN that the communications giant did not pay any bribes to former South African ­ambassador Yusuf Saloojee. But he ignored emails from ex-MTN director Irene Charnley ­acknowledging the need to repay whistle-blower Chris ­Kilowan for money he paid to ­ambassador ­Saloojee... Hoffmann produced a report ­following an investigation into ­alleged bribery by MTN to obtain an operating licence in Iran. One of the key issues in the ­investigation is whether MTN agreed to pay a bribe to ambassador Yusuf 'Jojo' Saloojee, who was the South African envoy in Iran at the time of MTN’s pursuit of the licence back in 2004... 'We are not concerned to inquire into the state of accounts between Mr Kilowan and the ambassador. The question is whether there is any truth in Mr Kilowan’s claim that he lent the money on the strength of an assurance that, directly or indirectly, he would be repaid by MTN.' But the inconsistencies remain. Saloojee told the committee he had a meeting with MTN chief ­Phutuma Nhleko about the money MTN 'owed' to Kilowan... The special independent committee chaired by Hoffmann, who was assisted by Jeff van Rooyen and Peter Mageza – both non-executive directors of MTN – cleared the company of all wrongdoing relating to the licence acquisition. City Press also reported in November last year that Hoffmann’s daughter, Jennifer, worked for MTN group as the chief executive of MTN Mobile Money until 2008. The committee, however, felt 'this could not reasonably be regarded as affecting his impartiality and MTN agreed'. Hoffmann described the allegations by Kilowan – who was MTN’s point man in Iran at the time – as 'a fabric of lies, distortions and ­inventions', and brands him as an unreliable witness. Kilowan’s back-up documents were all mostly written by him, making them not sufficient evidence, he said." (City Press, "MTN report: Not so Ayoba," 2/10/2013)

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"The Sunday Times reported that MTN has showered Iranian politicians with gifts, luxury accommodation and mobile phones as part of its plan to win the lucrative Iranian cellular license in 2005. According to the newspaper MTN gave Iranian politicians designer cuff-links, free cellphones and up to R12,000 accommodation when they visited South Africa. These details, the Sunday Times reported, are contained in a KPMG forensic report which showed how Iranian officials were wined and dined by MTN. However, MTN recently released the findings of the Lord Hoffmann committee it set up to review the allegations made by Turkcell in the legal case brought against MTN in the United States... 'Lord Hoffmann concluded that he found nothing in the conduct of MTN over this period that puts at question MTN’s integrity or propriety,' MTN said." (Business Tech, "MTN's Iran Gifts Exposed," 2/10/2013)

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"Although an MTN-commissioned investigation has ostensibly cleared the company of wrongdoing in Iran, its report is replete with examples of how MTN's well-connected executives intervened to influence South African diplomacy in its favour. MTN stands accused in a US court of bribing South African and Iranian officials and politicians and of trading on influence to secure defence contracts between the two countries and to affect South Africa's position on Iran's nuclear programme. Allegedly, this was so MTN would win a lucrative mobile licence there. Some of the evidence presented by retired British judge Leonard Hoffmann and his three-person committee is as follows." (Mail & Guardian, "MTN's bid to sway govt raises disturbing questions," 2/8/13)

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"South Africa's ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, is batting very ably for MTN to prevent it falling foul of the US's very tough and far-reaching sanctions against Iran and those who do business with it. Rasool, according to diplomatic sources, has twice managed to dissuade the US government from naming MTN in recent proclamations listing entities which are to be sanctioned. The most recent one was just before Thanksgiving late in November. The cellphone service-providing contract MTN has in Iran - sharing the cellphone business with just one other state-owned company - is a lucrative component of MTN's business. But it has been seriously threatened this year, on two fronts. The first was by allegations levelled at it in a US court by the Turkish cellphone company Turkcell that it bribed Iranian and South African government officials to ensure Tehran switched the contract from Turkcell to MTN Irancell, its Iranian operation. That is still working its way through the US judicial system. The other, and possibly greater, threat against MTN is the thorough and aggressive package of sanctions President Barack Obama slapped on Iran earlier this year, also designed to pressure it to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, which it denies having." (Independent Online, "Rasool in MTN, Iran, US manoeuvre," 12/7/12)

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"The other Iranian telecom isn't named but Malte Pollmann, Utimaco's chief executive officer, confirmed that in 2006, Nokia's German unit had purchased Utimaco software for MTN Irancell, Iran's second-largest mobile phone operator which has a major contract with Huawei... MTN Irancell is 49 percent owned by South Africa's MTN Group, Africa's largest telecom carrier. It declined to comment about the Utimaco product. Interviews and internal MTN documents reviewed by Reuters show that prior to MTN's launch of MTN Irancell, Iranian intelligence authorities took a keen interest in the capabilities of its lawful-intercept system, and pushed to make it more intrusive... The terms of MTN Irancell's license agreement stipulated that Iran's security agency could record and monitor subscribers' communications, including voice, data, fax, text messaging and voicemail, the internal MTN documents show... According to a person familiar with the matter, prior to its launch, Iranian authorities pushed MTN Irancell to provide them with even more surveillance capabilities... MTN, which oversaw the telecom's launch, didn't express to the authorities any concern about potential abuse, according to this person. Rather, the company argued during a series of meetings that the new requirements weren't part of the scope of the licensing agreement. MTN offered to add other surveillance capabilities over time, this person said. MTN declined to comment. In April, its chief executive, Sifiso Dabengwa, said that any allegations that MTN was complicit in human rights abuses in Iran 'are both false and offensive.' The pressure on MTN Irancell by the Iranian authorities to enhance their surveillance capabilities is made clear in the internal MTN documents. 'The reality of the situation is that the LEA (law enforcement agency) has the authority to prevent Irancell from launching and even worse to stop our operations from continuing after launch if their requirements are not adequately met,' MTN wrote to Nokia, its contractor for the lawful-intercept system, in September 2006... But they made clear they expected MTN Irancell would eventually install more capabilities, according to the person familiar with the situation. 'Their view was ... it's not a negotiation, we just want to know when you're going to do it,' the person said. The extent to which MTN Irancell later added new surveillance capabilities to its network remains unclear. The network did add enhanced location-based services in 2011. A British company, Creativity Software, announced in August 2009 that it had won a contract to supply the technology, which it said would allow MTN Irancell to offer its customers special rates at home. 'Creativity Software has worked in partnership with Huawei, where they will provide first and second level support to the operator,' the company said at the time. An official with Creativity Software did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement last year, the company said its sale was legal and 'any connection implied between the provision of commercial location-based services deployed by MTN Irancell in Iran and any possible human rights abuses is ... erroneous.' Hamid - the human rights activist who says Iranian security agents told him in 2008 they had listened to his telephone conversations - says he had been using a mobile phone he had purchased through MTN Irancell... MTN declined to comment. The spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission said Hamid's allegations 'are unfounded' and that Iran's constitution protects the rights of Iranian Arabs and other ethnic groups." (Reuters, "Special Report: How foreign firms tried to sell spy gear to Iran," 12/5/2012)

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"While MTN’s shares remain within touch of recent record highs, an analyst believes that without its judicial burdens, the operator’s share price could be closer to R180. MTN was on the front foot in early trade on Tuesday (4 November), up R1.85 or 1.12% to R167.74, having added R2.26, or 1.38%, to R165.89 (intraday best R167.73) on Monday. This was a tad off an all-time best of R172.67 reached on December 13... He said that, as long as the group is unable to repatriate funds from Irancell (49% owned by MTN) due to sanctions imposed by the US and several of its allies, the company would continue to underperform. Lees event risk like the happenings in Iran, including a legal dispute with Turkcell over its license in the country, could potentially see MTN reaching R180 per share, he said. MTN’s market cap exceeds R312.5 billion, with a price/earnings ratio of 14.5, and a generous dividend pay-out policy in recent years. Vodacom, meanwhile, added 79 cents in the morning session to R118.79, having lost ground on Monday, with an analyst citing some profit taking after the group also tracked MTN to trade at record highs in recent weeks... Vodacom, like MTN, has also delivered very attractive dividends in recent times, and has an even better P/E ratio of 15.23, with a market cap of R175.58 billion." (BusinessTech, "MTN hamstrung by Iran judicial woes," 12/4/2012)

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"Hallstan said Ericsson's promise to continue supporting a second Iranian mobile operator, MTN Irancell, for many years falls under a 2006 contract. MTN Irancell is Iran's second largest mobile carrier. The sensitivity of Ericsson's work in Iran is made clear in a letter written by an executive of the company. On January 19, an Ericsson vice president wrote to MTN Group, a South African company that holds a 49 percent stake in MTN Irancell... The letter confirmed that Ericsson intends to 'continue supporting the MTN Irancell operation and future network expansions ... based on Ericsson's existing supply contracts ... as long as it is feasibly possible to do business in Iran.'... The letter concluded: 'Ericsson is looking forward to supporting MTN and strengthening our relationship by working closely together to resolve any practical obstacles and challenges facing the MTN Irancell business.' The executive, who at the time of the letter was in charge of Ericsson's business with MTN, did not respond to a request for comment. MTN declined to comment. Hallstan said the letter 'is correct' in that Ericsson will continue to support MTN Irancell under an agreement it signed in 2006 when the mobile operator launched." (Reuters, "Exclusive: Ericsson helps Iran telecoms, letter reveals long-term deal," 11/20/2012)

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"Sanctions announced last week by the US treasury against Iranian individuals and companies have led to panic at mobile operator MTN. The three executive orders released on Friday target 17 individuals believed to be related to human rights abuses by the Iranian government, as well as to supporting terrorism and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. According to sources, the mobile operator is concerned sanctions will cause a hardening of attitudes in the US against the company. MTN is being sued in the US for allegedly bribing Iranian officials to obtain an operating licence, while it is negotiating with the US treasury to allow the operator to expatriate its cash profits from Iran before the Iranian rial completely bottoms out. MTN sources are also saying they are worried the US judiciary will rule against them if public sentiment sways out of their favour. Said one: 'This is a SA company that should not be subjected to US foreign policy decisions' . . .  In his deposition, former MTN executive Chris Kilowan told a US court MTN installed software to intercept data and calls by mobile phone users for the Iranian government. 'We had to get a certificate from the intelligence to certify the lawful intercept (sic) system has been installed, been tested and that they’re happy with it,' he said. Nathan Carleton, communications director for Washington-based lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran, told Fin24 sister publication City Press: 'MTN stands out as one of the single most irresponsible businesses in the world and should be ashamed of the depths it has gone to in pursuit of profit ... We hope South African legislators will hold MTN accountable for its systematic human rights violations, corruption and illegalities.'" (City Press, "Panic at MTN over US treasury sanctions," 11/11/12)

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"MTN Irancell believes this request doesn’t comply with mutual agreements because Iranian government had negotiated with Turkcell on this subject and MTN Group has never accepted this request. 'It’s clear. MTN Irancell should sell 21 percent stake in Tehran’s stock market. We have talked with the officials of Irancell and currently we are waiting for their decision.' Reza Taghipour said... The company has two shareholders including Iran Electronic Development Company (IEDC) (51%), and MTN International (Mauritius) Limited (49%)." (Kabir News, "Iranian Communications Ministry Forces Irancell to Sell 21 Percent Stake," 11/7/2012)

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"The government has confirmed that SA's ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee, has been suspended and recalled to SA while he is being investigated for allegedly taking bribes from cellphone company MTN to help it win an operating licence in Iran. International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told Parliament in July that Saloojee was being investigated on the charges that arose from allegations by the Turkish cellphone company Turkcell in a US court . . . [Nkoana-Mashabane] also repeated a previous statement that another ambassador had not been suspended and wasn’t being investigated for accepting a bribe. Though this other ambassador was not named in the parliamentary questions, Maynier had identified him as Abdul Minty, SA’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, who was SA’s representative on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna in 2006. Turkcell, which had been awarded an operating licence in Iran before it was switched to MTN, has claimed in the US court that Minty opposed sanctions against Iran at the IAEA in 2006 because MTN had bribed the SA government to do so. Nkoana-Mashabane said earlier that Minty had been instructed by the SA government to oppose sanctions against Iran and that this instruction had nothing to do with MTN." (IOL News, "Envoy recalled over alleged MTN bribe," 10/19/12)

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"A plunge in Iran's currency could slice 5 percent or more off MTN Group's full-year earnings, the latest setback for the South African mobile operator over its money-spinning business in the Middle Eastern country... However, the tumbling rial, along with an ongoing $4.2 billion lawsuit over MTN's Iran licence, highlight the political risks of doing business with a country increasingly under pressure from Western sanctions over its nuclear programme... MTN finance director Nazir Patel said in August the rial's slide could have a big impact on second-half earnings, expected in March... Spokesman Paul Norman said on Tuesday the company was not in a position to comment further... MTN has been unable to move money out of Iran for months due to the widening U.S. sanctions, and has said it was in talks with the Unites States about repatriating funds... With MTN's exposure to markets such as Iran and Syria, it is not for investors without a decent amount of risk appetite, said one analyst, who declined to be identified." (Reuters, "Iran's tumbling rial to squeeze MTN's profit," 10/16/2012) 

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"A U.S. court has delayed ruling on a $4.2 billion suit by Turkish mobile operator Turkcell against South African rival MTN Group , pending a Supreme Court decision on a separate case, the two companies said... MTN has asked for the case to be dismissed, saying the suit has no legal merit and a U.S. court does not have jurisdiction over the case... MTN said it expected Turkcell's claim to be disposed of after the Supreme Court issues its decision in Kiobel. It was not immediately clear for how long the suit would be put on hold. Turkcell said the suit would be pushed back by several months, while MTN said a decision in Kiobel was likely to happen by the end of June 2013... MTN now draws nearly 10 percent of its revenue from Iran, although it has been unable to get money out of the country for months due to tightening U.S. sanctions." (Reuters, "U.S. court delays ruling on MTN $4.2bln Iran suit," 10/13/2012)

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"The impact of Iran's currency slide has reached beyond its borders, hitting shares of MTN Group, the South African mobile operator that derives nearly a tenth of its revenue from the Middle Eastern country. MTN, which has been unable to repatriate profits from its Irancell unit because of Western sanctions on Iran, flagged in August that further rial weakness would deflate its second-half earnings. Its shares were down 3.7 percent at 152.06 rand in afternoon trade in Johannesburg, bringing its losses this month to nearly 5 percent...MTN operates in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East, including a 49 percent stake in Irancell. 'It's just that there will be foreign exchange losses that will be included in the earnings number for the year, that's the main concern,' said one Johannesburg-based portfolio manager, who declined to be identified... 'The unofficial rate trades well below the official rate. The fear is always that if the official rate drops to the black market rate, then MTN will take a knock in their report,' said one analyst, who also did not want to be named. MTN said in August it was in talks with South African and U.S. officials about moving money out of the country. The company's chief executive said at the time it had been unable to take cash out of the business for at least six months.  MTN is being sued by rival Turkcell for $4.2 billion in a U.S. court, saying it used bribery and lobbied South Africa to support Tehran's military in return for a 2005 cellular licence in Iran that was originally awarded to the Turkish firm. MTN has denied the charges." (Reuters, "S.Africa's MTN hit by slide in Iran rial," 10/8/2012)

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"Shares in South Africa’s most valuable mobile operator, MTN continued to lose ground in trade on the JSE on Monday (8 October) amid continuing economic woes in Iran, which have seen the country’s currency, the rial, lose significant vale in recent days. By 13:00, shares in MTN slumped 3.76% to R151.90 on the local bourse, as ongoing economic sanctions by the west have led to a shortage of foreign currency, which has prevented the central bank from supporting the rial in the open market. A local dealer at PSG Konsult notes that Iran is MTN Group’s third biggest market by revenue, and second largest in terms of subscribers. He said that the group is unable to repatriate profit from Irancell (49% owned by MTN), due to sanctions led by the US... 'There are big problems for MTN in that market right now,' he said. In its most recent results presentation for the six months ending June 2012, MTN Group reported that MTN Irancell increased its subscriber base by 10.4%, to 38.3 million. MTN Irancell increased its market share to 47%. MTN Group has a total subscriber base of 175.997 million, with Nigeria at 43.184 million subscribers, and South Africa at 23.5 million. Iran accounts for approximately R6.5 billion of R66.43 billion in total revenue accumulated by MTN Group in its most recent interims report, with Nigeria at R19.26 billion, and South Africa at R19.86 billion. Having reached a peak of R163.47 at the start of the month (2 October), shares in MTN Group have declined in tandem with a drop in the Iranian currency, closing at R154.58 on Wednesday (3 October) and hitting a low of R153.82 on Thursday (44 October)." (BusinessTech, "MTN shares slump amid Iran currency woes," 10/8/2012)

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"A major US lobby group's shock advertising campaign, alleging that MTN is 'profiting from torture' in Iran, has been blocked by local agencies.    But it claims that South African advertising companies have refused to erect the billboards because of the influence of the telecoms giant. United Against Nuclear Iran, an organisation founded by the late United States ambassador Richard Holbrooke, claimed this month that MTN, which has a 49% stake in Iran's second-biggest cellphone network, has provided the regime with the means to suppress and track dissenters, some of whom are later tortured... This week, Nathan Carleton, spokesperson for the lobby group, told the Mail & Guardian that, since early May, artwork and an initial undisclosed budget was offered for the erection of billboards opposite MTN's headquarters in Gauteng. The advert shows a picture of Iranian plain-clothes officers beating a civilian with clubs, alongside the words: 'MTN helps the Iranian regime terrorize and oppress its citizens.' But, at least half a dozen South African advertising companies have refused to print and erect the advert, including Adreach, which called the campaign 'distasteful', Media24, which cited a conflict of interest in its business with MTN, and Outdoor Media, which said it even feared for its staff's safety, owing to 'potential retaliation from other parties'. Only Alliance Media is still considering running the campaign." (Mail & Guardian, "Anti-MTN adverts get local gag," 9/7/12)

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"A South African telecom giant plotted to procure embargoed U.S. technology products for an Iranian subsidiary through outside vendors to circumvent American sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to internal documents seen by Reuters. The fresh revelations about MTN Group, buttressed by interviews with people familiar with the procurement, come as the South African multinational faces fights on several fronts over its lucrative but controversial Iranian venture, a fast-growing telecom. MTN is in talks with the U.S. Treasury in an effort to win permission to repatriate millions of dollars of profit now bottled up in Iran by American sanctions on the Iranian financial system" (Reuters, "Special Report: Documents detail how MTN funneled U.S. technology to Iran," 8/30/12)

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"MTN Group, Africa's top telecom, is in talks with South African and U.S. officials about moving money out of its Iran business, as tightening sanctions have prevented it repatriating funds, its chief executive said. Johannesburg-based MTN, which reported a 14 percent rise in first-half profit, also said on Wednesday a likely devaluation of the Iranian rial -- another result of U.S.-led pressure on Tehran -- could have a 'severe impact' on second-half results . . .

The currency has tumbled against the U.S. dollar in free market dealings as traders bet on a devaluation in the official exchange rate. The central bank governor said on Sunday a change to the government's 'reference rate' would be announced within the next 10 days.' It is likely to have a severe impact on second-half earnings,' Patel said at the earnings presentation.

Despite the complications of sanctions, Iran continues to be a major money-spinner for MTN. The mobile operator reported a 14 percent rise in adjusted headline earnings per share, as growth in Iran, together with South Africa and Ghana, helped overcome tough competition in the key Nigeria market. Revenue from the Iran business jumped by 30 percent in the six months to end-June, the company reported. Local subscribers increased more than 10 percent, to more than 38 million. Iran now accounts for 22 percent of MTN's 176 million subscribers. 'I don't think they are prepared to lose 20 percent of their customer base. They will find ways of continuing to operate in Iran - even if it's tough,' said Frost & Sullivan's Miemoukanda." (Reuters, "MTN in talks with U.S. to move money out of Iran," 8/8/12)

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"A devaluation of the Iranial rial could have a 'severe impact' on MTN Group's second-half earnings, the South African telecom's chief financial officer said on Wednesday. Nazir Patel made the comment at a presentation following the release of the company's first-half results. MTN owns 49 percent of local mobile operator MTN Irancell. The Iranian rial has tumbled against the U.S. dollar in free market dealings as traders have anticipated a devaluation in the official exchange rate." (Reuters, "MTN: Iran currency devaluation could hit H2 results," 8/8/12)

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"The White House defended President Obama’s senior adviser on Monday for taking $100,000 in speaking fees before joining the government from a subsidiary of a company working with the Iranian government . . . Mr. Plouffe’s six-figure payment from MTN was reported by The Washington Post on Monday and quickly seized on by Republicans who have attacked Mr. Obama for not being tough enough in pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear program. There is no indication that Mr. Plouffe violated rules by speaking for the company, but doing so in December 2010 just weeks before joining Mr. Obama’s White House staff could raise questions about the timing and give ammunition to adversaries in a tight re-election campaign.

It was not the first time Mr. Plouffe has come under fire for his moneymaking activities after the 2008 campaign. In 2009, he accepted $50,000 to speak in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic with an authoritarian government. When that was reported, Mr. Plouffe decided to donate the money to a nonprofit group that promotes democracy. Mr. Plouffe’s allies defended him by pointing to examples of Republicans who gave paid speeches for firms with business in Iran before going to work for President George W. Bush. They also noted that Mitt Romney, the putative Republican nominee, was an investor in a competing firm that originally won the Iranian contract that later went to MTN.

The Turkish firm Mr. Romney invested in, Turkcell, sued this year for $4.2 billion, accusing MTN of winning the Iranian contract by bribing officials and promising Iran weapons and United Nations votes, according to news accounts distributed by Mr. Plouffe’s allies. While it might seem odd for Mr. Plouffe’s defenders to note that the company he took money from is accused of trying to bribe and arm Iran, they argued that what mattered was that Mr. Romney stood to gain if the lawsuit succeeded . . .

MTN is in business with Irancell, which according to a 2006 American government cable obtained by the group WikiLeaks is 'fully owned' by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, considered a central instrument of repression in Iran. . . According to a nonpartisan advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran, MTN 'carried out orders from the regime to shut off text messaging and Skype during times of political protest, and reportedly has a floor in its Tehran headquarters where Iranian military officials compile and access tracking data. That data has been used to track, apprehend, torture and kill regime opponents.' 'Simply put,' the group said in a statement, 'MTN has blood on its hands.' The advocacy group’s chief executive, Mark Wallace, and president, Kristen Silverberg, both served as advisers and ambassadors under Mr. Bush, and Ms. Silverberg is an outside adviser to Mr. Romney. But the group’s advisory board also includes Democrats, and among its alumni are several who served in the Obama administration, including the former Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, and Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010." (New York Times, "Aide’s Fees Draw Critics and, Then, Defenders," 8/7/12)

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"David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who was President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran’s government. A subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, paid Plouffe for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff. Since Plouffe’s speeches, MTN Group has come under intensified scrutiny from U.S. authorities because of its activities in Iran and Syria, which are under international sanctions intended to limit the countries’ access to sensitive technology . . .

The White House declined to make Plouffe available for an interview. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said Sunday that criticizing Plouffe would be unfair because MTN Group’s role in Iran was not a high-profile issue when he was invited to speak to the affiliate. 'He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company’s leadership,' Schultz said in a statement to The Washington Post. 'At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host’s holding company . . .

MTN executives denied violating any sanctions but acknowledged that they have been in discussions with administration authorities for months . . .  Norman, the MTN spokesman, said that the company 'has been invited to a series of meetings with U.S. government officials in South Africa and Washington over the last six months' in which presidential executive orders on trade with Iran were discussed. He added that there have been several meetings with multiple agencies to 'ensure that MTN’s operations in Iran remain fully compliant with U.S. sanctions.' MTN Group’s chief executive, Sifiso Dabengwa, said in a past statement that suggestions that the company has been involved in human rights violations in Iran are 'false and offensive . . .' 

 Mark Wallace, the chief executive of United Against Nuclear Iran, said Sunday: 'MTN was a charter member of UANI’s target list — the Iran Business Registry — launched in 2009. We hope Mr. Plouffe will use his considerable influence to urge President Obama to enact a full economic blockade of Iran so that companies like MTN will no longer be able to operate there.' Wallace is a former official in the Bush administration, but the group has a bipartisan board of directors. The registry, which UANI says has been online since 2009, lists many other companies active in Iran, including Marriott, where Romney served on the board until early 2011." (Washington Post, "Obama associate got $100,000 fee from affiliate of firm doing business with Iran," 8/6/12)

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"South Africa has suspended its former ambassador to Iran amid allegations he accepted a bribe from MTN Group Ltd. to help the mobile-phone operator obtain an Iranian business license. The charges are part of a broader corruption case that have cast a shadow over one of South Africa's star companies and complicated the country's commercial ties with Iran, a large supplier of crude oil…Iran has become a large and lucrative market for MTN, one of a handful of South African companies that has expanded aggressively on the continent and the Middle East. MTN currently holds a 49% stake in Irancell, Iran's second-biggest mobile phone operator, with the Iranian government as its partner… South Africa has relied on Iran for about one quarter of its crude oil imports…Mr. Kilowan alleged in the deposition, taken in May, that MTN encouraged the South African government to support Iran's nuclear power development program in exchange for offering support in its bid for the license." (The Wall Street Journal, "South Africa Acts in MTN Bribery Case," 7/12/12)

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"The department of international relations is investigating allegations that the former ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Salojee, accepted payments from MTN, the department confirmed in a statement. The statement, by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in reply to a parliamentary question released on Tuesday, adds a new twist to the controversy over MTN’s operations in Iran. The South African company stands accused of paying bribes to secure a mobile phone operating licence in Iran but has denied any wrongdoing. MTN was alleged to have made a payment of $200000 (R1,6m) towards the purchase of a house for Mr Salojee in South Africa. Ms Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed in her reply that Mr Salojee did not have permission from the department to perform remunerated work outside his diplomatic functions. Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, who submitted the question, pointed out that a few months ago the minister had insisted there was no need to investigate mR Salojee.'It is not clear why the department has done an about turn, but the institution of this investigation is nevertheless a welcome development,' said Mr Maynier. He called on the department to release the findings of the investigation as soon as possible." (Business Live, "Iran’s SA envoy faces probe over MTN claims," 7/10/12)

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"MTN Group Ltd. (MTN), 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 . . . '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' . . . The case is Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS (TCELL) v. MTN Group Ltd, 12-cv-479, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington)." (Bloomberg, "MTN Asks Judge To Dismiss Turkcell Lawsuit Over Iran Deal," 7/3/12)

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"For a South African telecommunications company, it represented a unique chance to seize what its chief executive called 'one of the most significant ‘virgin' mobile opportunities in the world.' But the location, he added in a memo marked 'Strictly Confidential,' was 'no normal country.'

The country was Iran. The company, MTN Group, was widely seen as a post-apartheid success story. Now, seven years after MTN and its local partners won a lucrative license to launch a new Iranian mobile-phone carrier, the deal is swirling in controversy and raising embarrassing questions for South Africa at a time when the Western world is trying to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Turkcell, an Istanbul-based rival, in March filed a federal lawsuit in Washington alleging MTN bribed its way into Iran and stole the license from under it...MTN has appointed a prominent judge in London to conduct an internal probe of the allegations surrounding what has become one of its most valuable holdings. In 2011, MTN generated $1.3 billion, or 9 percent of its annual revenue, from its Iran venture, the company reported….During three days of sworn testimony in Washington that concluded May 2, Kilowan presented an extraordinary tale of a multinational company so intent on winning a contract, it was willing to help Tehran obtain military hardware, sway South Africa's votes before the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency and pay bribes, sometimes in the guise of consulting fees. MTN has yet to give evidence in the case, which is continuing and may go on for years...Kilowan said Iranian officials also directly told him they wanted help in acquiring military equipment, including helicopters and drone aircraft. He said he and MTN director Charnley worked to contact South African defense contractors to help deliver to Iran what MTN executives code-named 'the fish' - weaponry.

'We were not promising to facilitate the arm sales,' Kilowan testified. 'We were promising to get them in front of the right people for these arm sales. And if there are any bottlenecks, we would talk to the minister, for example.'…Turkcell's evidence also includes an alleged signed agreement between MTN and its Iranian partners from September 2005 that states: 'The cooperation between MTN and Iranian shareholders should be in the line of defensive, security and political cooperation. MTN shall fully support cooperation regarding the aforementioned issues in South Africa.'…Among Kilowan's most serious allegations is that MTN paid a series of bribes, including to Javid Ghorbanoghli, an Iranian deputy foreign minister who had once served as Iran's ambassador to South Africa...Meanwhile, MTN Irancell has become Iran's fastest-growing mobile phone operator. MTN recently reported it had 45 percent of the Iranian market." (Reuters, "Special Report: How an African telecom allegedly bribed its way into Iran," 6/15/12)

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"Under scrutiny in Liberia over a controversial arrangements, the mobile giant, MTN the corporate partner of Lonestar Cell is being investigated by South Africa's elite Hawks police into allegations of corruption at MTN relating to its purchase of a cellular license in Iran... Adding more fuel to the fire, the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) CEO, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, issued a statement Tuesday following reports that MTN evaded U.S. sanctions in order to send sophisticated American computer equipment to Iran, and is being investigated by its own government for bribery and corruption in Iran -- where MTN allegedly promised the Iranian regime that South Africa would vote against sanctioning Iran's nuclear program." (FrontPageAfrica, "Dangerous Ties: UN Probe of MTN in Iran Mirrors Liberia, Taylor-Era Deal," 6/7/12)

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"AdaptiveMobile, based in Dublin, stopped doing business with MTN Irancell, Iran's second-largest mobile provider, as of May 24, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York- based advocacy organization that pressures companies to cut business ties to Iran... 'AdaptiveMobile formally terminated all contracts with MTN Iran, and no longer has any business in the country,' [AdaptiveMobile Execuitive Hannah] Summers said in the e-mail to United Against Nuclear Iran." (Bloomberg, "AdaptiveMobile Drops Iran Contracts On Gear For Text Monitoring," 6/7/12)

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"South Africa's elite police wing has opened an investigation into graft allegations in mobile giant MTN's securing of an operating licence in Iran, a police spokesman said Tuesday... It has came under fire for its Iranian operations from the influential US lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran in January." (AFP, "S.Africa investigators probe MTN corruption allegations," 6/5/12)

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"South Africa's elite Hawks police unit has opened an investigation into allegations of corruption at mobile phone giant MTN relating to its purchase of a cellular licence in Iran, a police spokesman said on Tuesday... MTN executives were also accused in the U.S. court papers of promising to get Pretoria to vote favourably about Tehran's nuclear programme at international forums trying to curb Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons. MTN officials have denied any wrongdoing and described the Turkcell case, which is backed by a collection of alleged MTN internal documents including emails, invoices, memos and presentations, as without legal merit... The Iran scandal, painted in Turkcell papers as a 'staggeringly brazen orchestra of corruption', has thrown a harsh spotlight on MTN, a $31 billion company with close links to South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC)... MTN shares took a beating when details of the Turkcell allegations first emerged, falling 7 percent in three days amid fears the legal tussle might hamper the growth of its Irancell unit, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of group revenue... As well as piling more pressure on MTN executives, the Hawks probe is likely to generate more unflattering coverage of the business practices of a firm that has become adept at winning in difficult emerging and frontier markets across Africa and the Middle East." (Reuters, "S.Africa police probe MTN Iran graft allegations," 6/5/12)

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"MTN Irancell, a joint venture between MTN Group Ltd of South Africa and an Iranian government-controlled consortium, sourced equipment from Sun Microsystems Inc, Hewlett Packard Co and Cisco Systems Inc, the documents and interviews show. MTN owns 49% of the joint venture but provided the initial funding... He said MTN's parent company, MTN Group, was directly involved in procuring U.S. parts for MTN Irancell, which launched in 2006 and is now Iran's second-largest mobile-phone operator. 'All the procedures and processes around procurement were established by MTN,' he said. He said the company agreed to allow its Iranian partners and MTN Irancell to set up a local Iranian company with the 'basic' purpose of evading sanctions on Iran. In a statement, Paul Norman, MTN Group's chief corporate affairs officer, said: 'To the best of our knowledge, MTN personnel, directly or indirectly, did not acquire or seek to acquire equipment for use in Irancell's operations in a manner that was intended to avoid or circumvent U.S. sanctions. MTN is committed to compliance with U.S. sanctions, and is working with the U.S. government and its international legal counsel to remain compliant. MTN owns a non-controlling 49% share in Irancell.'... Kilowan is a central figure in a lawsuit, filed in Washington in March, against MTN by a rival telecommunications company, Turkcell. The Turkish telecom carrier has accused MTN of bribing an Iranian official and other alleged wrongdoing 'to steal' from it the original license to launch the operation that became MTN Irancell... The section of the 2008 MTN Irancell contract document that refers to 'embargo items' also states that the telecom carrier had a support contract with 'Arya Hamra Systems' and that 'it would be prudent for the selected vendor to use the same supplier.' The spokesman for Huawei, which won the contract, said his company 'has never worked with Arya Hamrah Samaneh as part of the management service contract with MTN Irancell.' An Iranian familiar with Arya Hamrah said it was a 'major partner and major supplier' of MTN Irancell and that it was able to procure equipment from Sun and HP without any problems, via Dubai. He declined to discuss Arya Hamrah's ownership, saying it was 'a secret.' Another person familiar with Arya Hamrah said one of its sources for Sun equipment for MTN Irancell was an Iranian firm called Fakour Co, with which Arya Hamrah sometimes competes... Mahmoud Tadjallimehr, a former project manager at MTN Irancell, said in an interview he was present when the telecom carrier obtained more than 10 Cisco routers and numerous switches in 2007 to route communications traffic... At the time, it had a unit in Iran called Shabakkat Cellular that worked on the MTN Irancell project." (Reuters, "Iranian cell-phone carrier obtained banned U.S. tech," 6/4/12)

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"A senior former MTN executive has admitted to bribing South ­Africa’s former ambassador to Iran to thank him for assisting the mobile giant. City Press has obtained a transcript of Chris Kilowan’s evidence before a US court a month ago in which he implicates himself and top MTN executives in ­underhanded dealings to acquire a multibillion-dollar mobile licence in the pariah state. In a chilling account of events ­before the Columbia District Court, Kilowan testified for Turkish cellphone company Turkcell in its $4.2 billion (R36 billion) lawsuit against MTN – South Africa’s fifth-biggest company – for 'stealing' its ­Iranian mobile licence. In his evidence, Kilowan testified under oath that: Irene Charnley, MTN’s former head of North African and Middle East operations, approved a bribe payment to Yusuf 'Jojo' Saloojee, South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran, for his assistance in acquiring the licence; He had to pay the $200 000 bribe to Saloojee himself because the ambassador urgently needed the money to buy a house in Pretoria and Charnley had left MTN at the time; He shook hands with Saloojee after making the deal and the ambassador promised he would pay back the money as soon as he had received payment from MTN; and Despite numerous attempts to reclaim the money from MTN and its former chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko, the company has to date refused to reimburse Kilowan... Saloojee responded: 'I did not receive any bribe money from ­anyone, including MTN.' Nhleko didn’t respond to questions, and MTN accused Kilowan of being an 'unreliable' witness and a 'disgruntled' ex-employee... On his recent visit to the US, ­Kilowan testified, he was ­approached by two private investigators, who said they were working for MTN’s lawyers and wanted to talk to him about his deposition. 'MTN has done everything in its power to discredit me, to put the safety of my family at risk, to put my own safety at risk, to make ­allegations against me that are­ ­totally unfounded. And quite frankly, I am severely angry with MTN,' ­Kilowan testified... City Press has seen a copy of the memorandum from Nhleko to Charnley, which states: 'With reference to the process in terms of which MTN . . . acquired a 49% equity interest in Irancell, you are authorised to finalise all agreements with the consultants that assisted the company during the run-up to and actual negotiating period, and to effect the necessary payments.'" (City Press, "MTN man admits bribe," 6/3/12)

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"African mobile operator MTN said on Tuesday it is working with U.S. authorities to manage compliance with sanctions against Iran, one of its biggest markets... Turkcell says MTN bribed both South African and Iranian officials and asked South Africa to provide weapons to Iran to acquire the permit... Tehran later backed out of the deal and awarded the business to MTN in 2005. 'MTN is working with the U.S. authorities to manage its compliance with U.S. sanctions against Iran. MTN also continues to retain international legal advisors to assist the group in remaining compliant with applicable EU, U.S. and UN sanctions,' MTN said in a statement ahead of an annual general meeting... Last year, MTN repurchased shares worth 2.29 billion rand. ($1 = 8.3435 South African rand)." (Reuters, "MTN says working with U.S. on Iran sanctions compliance," 5/29/12)

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"Cellphone operator MTN has said it might be able to scale down its operations in Iran to avoid US sanctions, the government said today. Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said that MTN had said this in discussions with the government about how to avoid the 'unilateral' sanctions which the US has imposed on Iran. Ebrahim was speaking at a briefing by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperate Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and her senior staff about her department's budget which she presented to Parliament on Wednesday... MTN has direct business interests in the US but the indirect impact of being cut out of the dollar system is also enormous. Ebrahim said in an interview afterwards that MTN had told the government it would not be expanding its operations in Iran. But asked if that meant MTN had also agreed to scale down its Iran operations, he said it had. But Ebrahim added that there were no indications yet if the US would accept a scaling down of MTN's ooperations or would demand that it would pull out of Iran entirely. The Iran contract is believed to be one of MTN's largest and most profitable foreign investments." (DailyNews, "MTN agrees to scale back Iran ops," 4/26/12)

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"The former chief executive of MTN Group denied on Sunday that he authorised bribes to Iranian and South African government officials in return for a cellular licence in Iran.  "I can state quite categorically that during my tenure as group CEO of MTN no bribes were authorised or paid by the MTN Group to any South African or Iranian government officials to secure the mobile licence in Iran," Phuthuma Nhleko said in a statement. Turkish mobile operator Turkcell this week filed a $4.2 billion lawsuit against MTN in a U.S. federal court, accusing it of using bribery and other corrupt acts to win its licence in Iran in 2004." (Reuters, "MTN former CEO denies bribes to Iran, S. Africa," 4/1/12)

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"Turkey's largest mobile phone operator, Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetlera AS (TKC), Thursday said it has filed a suit against South Africa's MTN Group Ltd. in the U.S., seeking damages related to the award of a license in Iran.  Turkcell alleges the South African company encouraged Pretoria to support Iran's nuclear power development program in 2005, and it claims MTN made improper payments to an Iranian and to a South African government official between 2004 and 2005 to enable the company to secure a license to operate in Iran... The allegations come as MTN's Iranian operation is the target of a U.S. lobby group, which is seeking to persuade foreign businesses to leave Iran. United Against Nuclear Iran in January sent a letter to MTN Chief Executive Sifiso Dabengwa calling for the company to pull out of the country, alleging MTN's technology is being used by Iran's government to locate and track mobile phone users." (Dow Jones, "Turkcell Files Suit Against MTN In US Courts," 3/28/12)

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"As nations around the world scramble to comply with U.S. sanctions on dealing with Iran, one of those in the toughest predicament is South Africa. South Africa relies on Iran for 27 per cent of its oil supply, and it hasn’t yet figured out how to replace the Iranian oil. But that’s only one part of the dilemma. South Africa also has a web of business and political connections with Iran, and those will be equally difficult to sever...One of South Africa’s biggest telecommunications companies, MTN, is a major investor in Iran. It owns 49 per cent of Iran’s second-biggest cellphone operator, MTN-Irancell, which controls almost half of Iran’s mobile phone market.  Critics say the South African company complied with Iranian orders to cut off Skype and text-messaging services to Iranian cellphones during the anti-government protests in 2009. They also allege that MTN-Irancell did a deal with a Chinese company to install tracking technology on Iranian cellphones, so that Iran can track dissidents." (Globe & Mail, "South Africe feels pain of sanctions against Iran." 3/27/12)

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"Competing mobile operators MTN and Turkcell were silent this week on the latter's claims that MTN bribed its way into Iran six years ago. But circumstances surrounding MTN's audacious entry into Iran, and the South African government's concurrent diplomatic efforts there, provide a compelling context for the claims. MTN could also face increasing international pressure because the Iranian military owns one of MTN's two state-linked partners there, Iran Electronics Industries (IEI)... In September 2008, the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control placed one of MTN's Irancell partners, IEI, on a list designed 'to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.' This 'blocks the property of persons engaged in proliferation activities and their support networks.' The company allegedly manufactures electronic components for Iran's weapons systems. IEI, reportedly wholly owned by Iran's ministry of defence, was also sanctioned by the European Union in June 2008 as well as under the US Iran and Syria Non-proliferation Act in December 2006. MTN's other partner in Irancell, the Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution, is purportedly a charitable body designed to benefit veterans of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s." (Mail & Guardian, "MTN in bed with Iran's military," 2/10/12)

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"Along with Sasol, which not only imports Iranian oil but also has a 50% share in a $900 million Iranian petrochemical project, South Africa's flagship telecommunications company MTN Group Ltd. has a joint venture in Iran. MTN said Wednesday that it is "business as usual" at its 49% stake in Iran's second-largest mobile phone operator. MTN derives 21% of its subscriber base from Iran, according to its most recent figures. 'There is no change in our operation,' an MTN spokesman said. 'Sanctions in Iran have been going on for decades.' South Africa's Minister of Communications Dina Pule said her department wouldn't put pressure on MTN to pull out, even if countries from Europe or the U.S. tried to lean on the company." (The Wall Street Journal, "South Africa's Sasol to Avoid Iran Oil," 1/25/12)

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"Separately, Washington lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran says it is preparing a campaign to persuade South Africa's flagship telecommunications company MTN Group Ltd. to abandon its stake in Iran's second-largest cellphone operation. The company derives 21% of its subscriber base from Iran, according to data from September. Nathan Carleton, spokesman for United Against Nuclear Iran, says the group fears investment in Iranian telecommunication aids government censorship and efforts by officials to track cellphone users. MTN declined to comment on its business in Iran." (The Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Looks to Africa to Squeeze Iran" 1/23/12)

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"This year Huawei made a pitch to Iranian government officials to sell equipment for a mobile news service on Iran's second-largest mobile-phone operator, MTN Irancell... During 2009's demonstrations, this person said, Huawei carried out government orders on behalf of its client, MTN Irancell, that MTN and other carriers had received to suspend text messaging and block the Internet phone service, Skype, which is popular among dissidents... A spokesman for MTN Group Ltd., a South African company that owns 49% of the Iranian operator, declined to answer questions, writing in an email, 'The majority of MTN Irancell is owned by the government of Iran.' He referred questions to the telecommunications regulator, which didn't respond." (The Wall Street Journal. “Chinese Tech Giant Aids Iran,” 10/27/11)

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MTN Group  has no immediate plans to list its Iranian unit or lower its stake in the unit, the head of Africa's largest mobile operator said on Thursday.  MTN chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko made the comment at an investor presentation following the company's first-half earnings results. (Reuters, “MTN says no immediate plan to list Iran unit,” 8/19/10)

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Russias third-largest mobile phone operator, MegaFon, is prepared to invest around three billion euros ($4.64bn) to build a GSM network in Iran, the company said. MegaFon hopes to win a tender for the third GSM licence in Iran, the firm quoted its general director Sergei Soldatenkov as saying at the opening of a representative office in Tehran. There are currently two mobile service providers in Iran - state-controlled Iran Telecommunication Company (ITC) and MTN Group, sub-Saharan Africas biggest cellphone operator. (Gulf Daily News, "MegaFon to invest $4.6bn in Iran," 6/11/08)

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GIANTS WITH A FOOT IN TEHRAN: Total, Shell, Statoil, BNP Paribas, Commerzbank, MTN, UPS, Linde, Technip, Nokia, Ericsson, Peugeot, Renault, OMV, Societe Generale, ENI, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Siemens, LG, Samsung, Bosch, Valeo, Nestle, Unilever, BAT, Japan Tobacco. (The Times of London, "American pressure threatens UK firms," 5/27/06)