The former CEO at South Africa’s MTN Group has denied claims that he authorised the payment of bribes to government officials to help secure a GSM operator license in Iran.
The company is currently being sued by Turkcell after it claims that its license was confiscated and awarded to MTN after bribes were paid by the South African company. The company has set up an indpendent investigation, but is also facing a possible investigation by South African anti-corruption police.
“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.
Nhleko has been named in the lawsuit filed by Turkcell, which is attempting to have the case heard in the USA, where potential damages if found guilty could be far higher than other jurisdictions.
Turkcell is seeking US$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.
MTN aquired its 49% stake in the Iranian mobile network after the previous license that was awarded to Turkcell was cancelled under conditions that were by international standards, rather opaque – although quite common in Iran.
The company’s shares have dropped by nearly 7% since the lawsuit was filed, and the allegations in it made public.