MTN has again gone on the attack, accusing rival Turkcell of making “ludicrous” allegations that the SA-based operator influenced SA foreign policy on Iran in order to win an operating licence in the Middle Eastern country.
In a statement, MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa says MTN “did not cause Turkcell to lose ‘its’ licence in Iran”. Rather, he says, a consortium that included Turkcell was preselected to be awarded the second mobile licence in 2004 but that this consortium failed to meet “certain conditions” set by Iran’s government and the regulator.
Turkcell is suing MTN for more than US$4bn in the US, alleging the JSE-listed company acquired its operating licence in Iran unlawfully by offering a package of bribes and diplomatic influence.
“The current media interest in MTN’s operations in Iran, through its minority interest in Irancell, particularly the sensationalist allegations made by Turkcell, is naturally of concern,” Dabengwa says in Thursday’s statement.
“It was Turkcell’s own failures to meet Iranian legal and commercial requirements that caused its exit from the licence process,” he says. “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 noncontrolling shareholder was awarded the licence.”
Dabengwa says 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 SA foreign policy with regard to its armaments and nuclear position is simply ludicrous and has already been dismissed by the SA government,” he says. “Of particular concern are the allegations that accuse MTN of complicity in human rights abuses in Iran. Such allegations are both false and offensive.”
In the statement, Dabengwa says MTN’s views on human rights are “crystal clear”.
“Civic and human rights are central to us as a company, and as individuals. We have clear ethical standards and we expect the people we do business with to abide by them. One of our core values is to respect human rights and the privacy rights of people in all the markets in which we operate. We oppose the abuse of such rights by any party, including governments.”
Turning to allegations that MTN makes subscriber records available to Iranian authorities, Dabengwa says local laws in Iran give “certain government agencies the power to access subscriber details and intercept telephone lines”. He says this is “not exceptional” to Iran. “As with all telecoms companies, [MTN] Irancell is bound by these laws and requirements. This would have been the case irrespective of who Irancell’s shareholders were: whether MTN or Turkcell.”
He adds that MTN’s role in Iran that of a “technical partner” and noncontrolling shareholder — the group holds 49% of Irancell.
“Some more fanciful allegations concern some of the software and equipment provided to Irancell by MTN. I can emphatically state that whatever equipment MTN has acquired for Irancell was for normal business reasons.
“This equipment is of identical specification to that used in our other MTN operations. To suggest that we intended to acquire such equipment with the purpose of enhancing the Iranian government’s capacity to monitor its citizens outside the law or restrict their access to services is offensive.”
Dabengwa says that “contrary to allegations made by some in the media, Irancell is not in a position to cut off Skype or any other Internet site as we do not own or control the international gateway”.
“Similarly, Irancell’s data warehousing software was acquired to perform customer analytics, a normal activity in our industry.”
He says there are “new ethical dilemmas presented by new technology and the potential for their manipulation by governments and citizens for unethical means. We do not shrink from these debates. But discussion has to be founded on facts not fantasy.
“Our core belief is that people, irrespective of the governments they live under, gain from being participants in this technological revolution. Excluding them from the benefits of this new technology because of their government’s policy is no answer.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media