MTN ‘set up arms meetings with Iran’

2012-06-10 11:06

Johannesburg - The star witness in Turkcell’s $4.2bn (R35.6bn) lawsuit against MTN Group [JSE:MTN] has told a US court that he helped set up a clandestine meeting regarding weapon sales between Iran and South Africa.

Former MTN senior executive Chris Kilowan was called before the Columbia District Court more than a month ago to testify against his former employer.

MTN is accused of using underhanded tactics to wrestle a lucrative Iranian mobile phone licence away from Turkcell.

City Press revealed last week that Kilowan had testified under oath about alleged bribes paid by the mobile giant in Iran.

On Tuesday the Hawks confirmed they were investigating the allegations.

MTN is accused of obtaining the Iranian licence through a series of bribes, offers of financial assistance and by organising high-level meetings at which arms were discussed.

Iran has been the subject of UN sanctions and an arms embargo since 1979.

City Press has a transcript of Kilowan’s court testimony, during which he related how MTN introduced Iranian defence officials to former defence minister Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota.

The introduction was organised with a view to helping the Iranian military acquire arms from South Africa, Kilowan told the court.

Kilowan, a former director of MTN Irancell, testified that he and Irene Charnley, a former head of MTN’s North Africa and Middle East operations, were central in arranging meetings in 2004 between Lekota and top Iranian defence officials.

Kilowan said he attended some meetings regarding possible arms deals, though he admitted he was not at the meetings that Lekota attended.

At the meetings, Kilowan said, there were discussions about the possible sale to Iran of South African weapons, including long-range artillery G5 guns, coastal radar technology and Rooivalk attack helicopters.

Lekota told City Press he would not respond to rumours.

“It is hearsay and I don’t want to respond. If there is something wrong that I have done, they must charge me or take me to court,” he said.

“I think this matter is a waste of my time because I have never met him (Kilowan). I don’t know why the court allows him to make such allegations against me when I have never met him,” said Lekota.

Former MTN CEO Phuthuma Nhleko declined to confirm whether MTN took Lekota to Iran.
“It is really not for me to comment on the visits abroad of South African government ministers.”

MTN declined to respond to specific questions about the alleged arms meetings, referring City Press to earlier statements in which the company denied it influenced South Africa’s armaments and nuclear position.

In his testimony, Kilowan said that on August 14 2004, Lekota visited Iran and met Iranian officials, including Defence Minister Ali Shamkani and Dr Ebrahim Mahmoudzadeh, the head of Sairan, Iran’s main arms procurer and manufacturer. Sairan is a partner to MTN in Iran.

Mahmoudzadeh is listed by the European Union as a “persona non grata” because of his involvement in Iran’s nuclear arms programme.

The visit was allegedly arranged by the then South African ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee.

Saloojee last week denied receiving a R1.4m bribe from MTN via Kilowan, and yesterday hung up when contacted for further comment. He did not answer subsequent calls.

Kilowan testified that Lekota was accompanied to Iran by Nhleko and Charnley.

Kilowan testified that Charnley promised to use her connections in the South African government to help deliver arms to the Iranian military in exchange for the cellular licence.

Turkcell said in supporting documents lodged before the court that Mahmoudzadeh drafted a list of specific items referred to as “the fish” – code for the arms Iran wanted.

A delegation of Iranians came to South Africa in 2006, Kilowan testified.

“Dr Mahmoudzadeh and five parliamentarians went with me to Stellenbosch to visit the company that was building coastal radar systems.”

Kilowan testified that he had organised and hosted the visit on behalf of MTN.

Kilowan testified: “Phuthuma (Nhleko) sent letters of appreciation to the people who were involved in arranging the visit of Minister Lekota, and he also thanked Dr Mahmoudzadeh and Mr Mokhber for their assistance in making the visit go smooth.”

MTN footed the bill for the South African visit, Kilowan testified.

“So we, again, we paid for that trip, the entire trip tickets, everything. We paid for the hotels and...took care of the logistics of this trip.”

Kilowan admitted he did not know whether Lekota saw the Iranian parliamentarians independently of MTN.

“But I do know that later in 2006 or 2007, when Dr Mahmoudzadeh wanted to see him (Lekota) again, he would not see Dr Mahmoudzadeh unless Irene (Charnley) said that it is okay for him to see Dr Mahmoudzadeh.”

He told the court that, as far as he knew, none of “the fish” had ever been given to Iran.

“Up until today, it has not been resolved.”

Charnley did not respond to questions from City Press.

- City Press