Minister confirms probe of MTN bribery allegations
International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has confirmed that allegations former South African ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee, received payments from cellphone giant MTN are being investigated.
That is an apparent reversal of an earlier position which was that if anyone had evidence of wrongdoing then they should report the facts to law enforcement agencies.
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane, replying to a parliamentary question yesterday from Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier, said: “Yes, the department has instituted an investigation into the allegations that a certain ambassador received payment from a certain company.”
She said Mr Saloojee had not asked for permission to do remunerated work outside of his official duties.
It has been alleged in a US court that MTN had paid bribes to secure a licence to operate cell phone services in Iran and that Mr Saloojee was paid more than R1m towards the purchase of a house in SA.
MTN has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the matter. Mr Maynier, responding to the minister’s reply, said the DA welcomed the announcement that the former ambassador to Iran, Mr Saloojee, was being investigated by the department for allegedly taking a $200000 bribe from MTN.
“The former ambassador allegedly received a bribe payment of $200000 in return for assisting MTN to secure a mobile operating licenc e in Iran.
“MTN allegedly made a payment of $200000 to property attorneys Gildenhuys Lessing Malatji on April 26, 2007 towards the purchase of a home for the ambassador in SA. MTN has denied allegations that a bribe was paid to Yusuf Saloojee,” Mr Maynier said.
He said it was not clear why the department had changed its position on the investigation, but emphasised it was imperative that the results of the investigation be made public as soon as possible.
These developments follow the announcement by the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (Hawks) that it was investigating allegations of corruption involving MTN’s operations in Iran.
Turkish operators Turkcell lost a bid for a second mobile licence to MTN Irancell and took the matter to court in the US, alleging that bribery and corruption had helped MTN to win the bid. MTN insists that Turkcell lost because it has failed to comply with the legal and commercial requirements of the bid.
Reportedly, documents before the court include alleged MTN memorandums pointing to payments to Mr Saloojee and Iran’s former deputy foreign minister, Javid Ghorban-Oghli. Mr Maynier has promised to lodge further parliamentary questions on the matter.