South African’s Ex-Ambassador to Iran Arrested in MTN Investigation

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 15 – Pretoria’s former ambassador to Iran has been arrested in South Africa on charges he took a bribe to help telecoms company MTN win a $31.6 billion licence to operate in Iran.

Yusuf Saloojee, now retired, was arrested on Thursday, police said on Friday, in the latest legal blow for MTN, which has faced a host of such problems in recent years. It denies the latest allegations.

Police said Saloojee was given 1.4 million rand ($100,000) to help MTN win the 15-year contract to operate in Iran, worth $31.6 billion, from Turkish mobile operator Turkcell. He used the money to buy a house in Pretoria, police said.

The arrest is the first concrete development since June 2018 in connection with allegations of corruption involving MTN. The company’s shares were down 1.83 percent at 1520 GMT.

“MTN 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 said in a statement.

It added that the allegations appeared to be based on the evidence provided by a single “disgruntled employee”, which had been rejected in a 2013 investigation by an independent jurist.

Reuters could not immediately reach Saloojee or establish who was representing him. Neither the police, the National Prosecuting Authority nor MTN could provide a contact.

He had previously said the money he got was the result of a private loan arrangement and had nothing to do with MTN, according to MTN.

The Iranian embassy in South Africa did not answer calls or emails and no official comment was made in Iran, on a weekend in the country.

Saloojee’s arrest follows the seizure of documents from MTN offices last June, after Turkcell brought a $4.2 billion lawsuit over the disputed Iranian licence.

He appeared in a Johannesburg court on Thursday, the police’s statement said, and has been granted bail set at 4,000 rand. The case was postponed until April 17.

The part of the investigation dealing with MTN is still underway, the statement added.

In Uganda, police said on Friday that the chief executive of MTN Uganda had been deported over national security concerns. The company has also faced costly disputes over unregistered sim cards, tax and dividend repatriation in Nigeria.

($1 = 14.1352 rand)

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; editing by Larry King)