Bloemfontein – While MTN Group [JSE:MTN]
will cooperate with the elite Hawks investigating unit in any inquiry into allegations of bribery, its own investigation into the acquisition of its cellphone licence in Iran will continue.
There is still no indication of when the findings of the investigation, led by the famed Lord Leonard Hoffmann, will be made known.
MTN is being tackled by its Turkish competitor, Turkcell, in a US court over its operating licence in Iran, one of its biggest markets. Turkcell alleges that the South African company bribed officials, including an ambassador, to acquire the licence.
A former MTN employee, Chris Kilowan, has alleged in a letter to the Hoffmann committee and in court papers lodged in the US that he and other MTN employees were guilty of fraud in order to get hold of the Iranian licence.
On Friday MTN chief executive Sifiso Dabengwa said the Turkcell allegations were “sensational and unfounded” and MTN was doing everything in its power to deal with the matter speedily and effectively.
Although the cellphone provider is claiming that the Hoffmann committee is independent, three of the panel’s four members are MTN directors.
They are Jan Strydom, a chartered accountant and member of the board’s audit committee and the committee concerned with risk management and compliance; Jeff van Rooyen, the chair of the latter committee and a former chief executive of the Financial Services Board; and Peter Mageza, member of the audit committee and also a non-executive director of Bidvest and Remgro, among others.
Responding to enquiry, Hoffmann affirmed that his committee was collecting evidence and that its activities were confidential.
“The committee has been appointed to investigate the circumstances under which MTN obtained the Iranian cellular licence in 2005, and the committee has the power to instruct that its report, or parts of it, be published.”
He believed the MTN board would follow the committee’s recommendations.
The cellphone company declined to respond further to Sake24’s enquiries regarding its statement earlier in the week that the Hoffmann committee investigation into Turkcell’s allegation “was progressing well” and that the investigative committee would give its recommendation to the MTN board “later this year”.
A South African interested party who did not wish to be named pointed out that the finalisation of the investigation depended not on MTN but on Hoffmann and his committee.
The committee was aware that it had to make its findings as soon as possible, he said. It was doing everything in its power to speed up the investigation.
But at the same time it had to be dealt with comprehensively and in fairness to all parties.
The Hoffmann committee of investigation was appointed by MTN in February.
At the time Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the MTN board, said that MTN would brook no corruption or unethical practices, and he had therefore decided to investigate Turkcell’s allegations himself.
MTN said in its latest response that the Hoffmann committee would decide whether there had been any misconduct by its former employee or any other relevant witnesses.