Cape Town - The department of international relations has
confirmed it is investigating allegations that the former ambassador to Iran,
Yusuf Salojee, accepted payments from MTN Group [JSE:MTN].
The statement by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in reply
to a parliamentary question released on Tuesday, adds a new twist to the
controversy over MTN's operations in Iran.
The South African company stands accused of paying bribes to
secure a mobile phone operating licence in Iran, but has denied any wrongdoing.
It is alleged that MTN made a payment of $200 000 (R1.6m) towards the purchase
of a house for Salojee in South Africa.
Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed in her reply that Salojee did not
have permission from the department to perform remunerated work outside his
Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, who submitted the
question, pointed out that a few months ago the minister had insisted there was
no need to investigate Salojee.
"It is not clear why the department has done an about
turn, but the institution of this investigation is nevertheless a welcome
He called on the department to release the findings of the
investigation as soon as possible.
The Hawks announced last month they were investigating
claims that MTN had obtained its operating licence in the Islamic republic
through corrupt means.
The claims originated from Turkish mobile operator Turkcell,
which won a tender in 2004 for the second private mobile operating licence in
Iran. However, the licence was finally awarded to MTN Irancell, a consortium in
which MTN holds a 49% stake.
MTN has said there was nothing untoward about the process,
and that Turkcell was knocked out of contention because it failed to comply
with Iranian legal and commercial requirements.
But Turkcell has alleged in a law suit filed in Washington
that MTN bribed officials, arranged meetings for Iran with South African
leaders, and promised Iran weapons and support at the United Nations nuclear
watchdog on the Iran dossier, in exchange for the stake in Irancell.
International news agency Bloomberg has reported that the
court documents include alleged MTN memos pointing to payments to Salojee and
Iran's former deputy foreign minister, Javid Ghorban-Oghli.
In March, Nkoana-Mashabane said there was no need for an
investigation into payments to the ambassador, adding she knew for a fact that
nothing had swayed South Africa's stance on Iran's controversial nuclear