MTN Group branded legal action by Turkcell related to alleged corruption in Iran as opportunistic and baseless, as a row between the companies escalated following the arrest of a South African diplomat.

Speaking to local publication ITWeb, MTN reiterated its innocence over the issue, which has come to fore once again following the arrest of Yusuf Saloojee, a South African ambassador to Iran, last week. He was held over his alleged role in helping MTN secure a stake in Irancell in 2005, which gave it a mobile licence in the country.

Turkcell has contested the award ever since, launching court cases arguing that it was awarded the licence first and MTN paid bribes to Iranian and South African officials to sway the decision in its favour.

In the latest update after Bloomberg broke the news, ITWeb reported Saloojee has now been released on bail, but is due back in court in April.

Private agreement
Saloojee was reportedly arrested on claims that he accepted money to bring about the cancellation of Turkcell’s licence in Iran.

MTN, which has battled Turkcell’s charges for years, added the latter’s claim was “an abuse of the process of court, baseless and without merit”.

It also opened up on the Saloojee case in particular, reiterating that the claims against the ambassador are based on evidence provided by former employee Chris Kilowan.

MTN argues Kilowan paid Saloojee money as part of a private agreement between the two men, while Kilowan argues the payment was made by MTN to secure its Iranian licence.

“Ambassador Saloojee himself has repeatedly said the money he received from Kilowan was the result of a private loan arrangement between him and Kilowan, that he has repaid that loan to Kilowan and that this was a private matter between the two that had nothing to do with MTN or anyone else,” said MTN.

MTN added Turkcell’s claim had already been rejected in 2013 by an independent jurist, who described Kilowan as “a fantasist and a conspiracy theorist”.

Turkcell, which filed its latest lawsuit against MTN in 2017, is seeking damages of $4.2 billion over the issue.