Johannesburg - South Africa denied on Friday that it had been pressured by MTN Group [JSE:MTN]
into backing Tehran’s nuclear programme and aiding its military when the mobile operator was bidding for a telephone licence in Iran.
“South Africa’s foreign policy is independent and it cannot be influenced by anyone,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela said.
South Africa has been reluctant to join Western nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, but has stopped short of open support for Tehran. Iran supplies a quarter of South Africa’s crude supply.
MTN, Africa’s biggest mobile operator, said on Thursday it was facing a potential lawsuit in a US court from rival Turkcell over its licence in Iran.
MTN said Turkcell was set to say that MTN encouraged South Africa to take a favourable stance towards Iran’s nuclear development programme.
MTN dismissed the allegations as having no legal merit, but its shares still tumbled 3.7%, reflecting investor concern about its Iranian operation, which accounts for nearly 10% of total revenues.
The Turkish mobile firm will also accuse MTN of asking Pretoria to provide military equipment to Iran and bribing officials of both governments in order to win the licence, MTN said.
Turkcell unsuccessfully bid for the licence that was later awarded to Irancell, which is 49% owned by MTN.
Officials for Turkcell were unavailable for comment.
MTN is worth $33 billion and is one of South Africa’s most prominent companies. It has operations in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East. It has 32 million subscribers in Iran.