Turkcell has hit back at rival MTN, accusing the company of advancing “a variety of expected and meritless technical legal defences” as the two companies prepare to square off in the high court in Johannesburg over the awarding a licence in Iran.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday, the Istanbul-headquartered Turkcell said MTN’s papers, served on it on Monday afternoon, mean the case can “finally” be heard by the South African courts. Turkcell is seeking US$4.2bn (about R59bn) in damages from MTN.
MTN has set out several special pleas, arguing that the court should not entertain its rival’s claims and that the case should be dismissed. If these pleas are not successful, the group has vowed to fight the case in South Africa’s courts on its merits, arguing it did nothing wrong in securing an operating licence in Iran in 2005.
“After years of attempting to delay the case, MTN and certain of the defendants have finally filed pleas responding to the allegations of Turkcell’s particulars,” Turkcell said in the statement.
“While the MTN pleas assert a variety of expected and meritless technical legal defences, Turkcell is confident that they will be rejected by the court, and that the case can now be scheduled for trial in the coming months.”
Turkcell claimed in its statement, without elaborating, that MTN had “finally admitted to many of the allegations asserted by Turkcell that form the basis of its claims”.
The dispute between the companies dates back 12 years. Over that period, Turkcell has accused MTN in various forums of paying bribes to secure an operating licence in Iran. MTN owns 49% of MTN Irancell, the Middle Eastern country’s second mobile network operator. Turkcell has claimed it lost out to MTN after the latter allegedly paid bribes and other inducements to secure the lucrative stake. Iran is one of MTN’s most important markets, alongside Nigeria and South Africa.
Turkcell is also seeking damages from former MTN Group CEO Phuthuma Nhleko and former director Irene Charnley. Both Nhleko and Charnley, who were closely involved in the licence bid in Iran, filed separate pleas in the matter this week.
Turkcell first filed papers in the high court in South Africa in November 2013. In May 2017, the court agreed to hear the matter.
Previous attempts by Turkcell to resolve the matter through international arbitration have failed. The company approached the South African courts after a legislative change affected the jurisdiction of a US court from which it had earlier sought relief.
It alleged in its application to that court that MTN had conspired with Iranian officials to oust it from the successful consortium that bid for the licence and take its place by promising to use its influence with the South African government so it could procure defence equipment and garner support for its nuclear development programme at meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Today’s events are a positive step forward in our case,” said Turkcell’s executive vice president for legal and regulation Serhat Demir. “MTN’s admissions are confirmation of our claims. We look forward to bringing the facts and the testimony before the court at trial to prove our case in full.” — (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP