An ongoing battle between MTN Group and Turkcell over the award of a mobile licence in Iran took a twist after South African police arrested a former ambassador to the country on corruption charges.

Bloomberg reported Yusuf Saloojee, a former ambassador to Iran, was arrested by a South African anti-corruption police unit, Hawks, over his role in awarding a 49 per cent stake in Irancell to MTN in 2005. The stake effectively gave MTN a mobile licence in the country.

Turkcell has contested the award for many years, arguing it was originally awarded the stake and MTN bribed South African and Iranian officials to get the decision overturned in its favour.

MTN has always maintained its innocence over the matter.

A statement released by Hawks seen by Bloomberg, said Saloojee aided the cancellation of Turkcell’s licence, which was then awarded to MTN by the Iranian government. He allegedly earned ZAR1.4 million ($99,358) for his role.

In response, MTN said it has consistently denied “that there is any credible evidence that it promised Ambassador Saloojee any money or that Ambassador Saloojee accepted money from MTN”.

The company added that the allegations linking MTN and Saloojee appear to be based on the evidence of Chris Kilowan, “a disgruntled former employee of MTN”.

In its lawsuit against MTN, the latest of which was filed in 2017, Turkcell is seeking damages of $4.2 billion based on the profit it could have made if it secured the licence, plus interest.