Former MTN exec admits to bribing Iran ambassador

The City Press reports that former MTN executive Chris Kilowan admitted to bribing South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran, to “thank him” for assisting the company.

According to a transcript the paper acquired of Kilowan’s evidence before a US court a month ago, he implicated himself and top MTN executives in “underhanded dealings” to acquire a multibillion-dollar mobile license in Iran.

In March, Turkcell sued MTN in federal court in Washington for $4.2bn in damages. Turkcell alleged that 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 Iran. Kilowan was testifying for Turkcell in court.

Reportedly, he testified that Irene Charnley, former MTN head of North African and Middle East operations, approved a $200 000 bribe payment to South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee, for his assistance in acquiring the license. Kilowan paid this amount to Saloojee from his own funds.

Further, the ambassador promised to pay Kilowan back as soon as MTN had paid him the money. However, the company has yet to reimburse Kilowan.

Charnley and Saloojee have denied their involvement in the deal. City Press quotes Charnley as saying: “I have never participated in any form of bribery … I am not aware that any bribery took place,” and that Kilowan’s admission that he had paid Saloojee “seems to me that he has confessed to committing a crime”.

Kilowan also claims that his life, as well as his family’s lives, are at risk and that they were being followed by MTN spies, reports City Press.

In response to Kilowan’s allegations, the newspaper quotes MTN group chief of human resources and corporate affairs officer, Paul Norman, as saying that MTN strongly denies any suggestion that it, or its representatives, intimidated Kilowan in relation to his role in these proceedings. “Mr Kilowan’s testimony showed he is not a reliable witness. He is a disgruntled former employee, who has admitted he had been paid by Turkcell for his role in the claims against MTN.” (Reportedly, Kilowan has denied the latter under oath).

Norman continues: “In his recent deposition, his evidence was discredited in a number of major respects. Mr Kilowan’s outlandish allegations also reflect Turkcell’s overall approach to the litigation, in making sensationalist claims with no legal merit.”

Further, he said that MTN continues to believe that the US courts have no jurisdiction to hear Turkcell’s claims and will shortly be filing its motion to dismiss its rival’s claim in the US proceedings. Turkcell is suing MTN under America’s 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act, which grants US courts jurisdiction in the case of offenses committed by non-citizens in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

Moneyweb’s Felicity Duncan previously reported that Turkcell wants to sue in America because the US has a rigorous process of “discovery,” under which both parties in the lawsuit are given wide ranging access to the other party’s documents, confidential memos, letters, e-mails, etc. it is believed that Turkcell is hoping that, if the case is allowed to proceed in the US, it will be given wide latitude to access MTN’s records during the process of discovery.

MTN has set up an independent committee led by UK legal expert Lord Hoffmann to investigate the claims. It has said Turkcell refuses to cooperate with the committee. Norman adds that Kilowan was invited to provide evidence to the committee on March 19 but has refused to do so.

Moneyweb reported MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa’s response to the allegations in April, where he states that the Turkcell consortium was never awarded the licence in Iran. “In 2004, a consortium that included Turkcell was pre-selected through a bid process to be awarded the second mobile licence…. It was Turkcell’s own failures to meet Iranian legal and commercial requirements that caused its exit from the licence process. In September 2005, the Ministry of ICT authorised the Iranian consortium partners to negotiate with MTN, the runner up in the bid process. As a result, a consortium that included MTN as the non-controlling shareholder was awarded the licence.

“Consequently, any suggestion that Turkcell’s failure to obtain the licence was as a result of any alleged corrupt or improper practices by MTN is unfounded. The allegation that MTN influenced South African foreign policy with regard to its armaments and nuclear position is simply ludicrous and has already been dismissed by the South African government,” added Dabengwa.

Source: Moneyweb

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Former MTN exec admits to bribing Iran ambassador