JOHANNESBURG – Africa’s largest mobile operator suffered a double blow last week when the Hawks arrested former ambassador to Iran Yusuf Saloojee, 75, on corruption charges related to the award of a mobile phone licence to the group while the company’s chief executive in Uganda was deported.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said Saloojee was arrested on Thursday for allegedly facilitating the reversal of the cellphone operating licence awarded to Turkcell which was later handed to MTN SA.
“Saloojee allegedly pocketed R1.4 million for his role, the money was deposited into an account of a firm of attorneys,” Mulaudzi said.
“The alleged payment was used towards the purchase of a house in Pretoria.”
MTN said on Friday that there was no credible evidence that it had promised Saloojee money.
The operator added that the money Saloojee received from Kilowan was the result of a private loan arrangement between the two, and had nothing to do with MTN.
“His allegations in this regard have been roundly rejected by Lord Hoffmann, an independent and renowned international jurist who investigated the claims of Kilowan and Turkcell in 2013.
In his findings, Lord Hoffmann was entirely satisfied that MTN neither promised nor paid anything to Saloojee,” said MTN.
MTN’s rival in Iran, Turkcell, a Turkish mobile company run by the Iranian government, claims MTN won its licence by bribing officials which MTN has denied.
In Uganda, authorities deported the company’s local chief executive Wim Vanhelleputte.
MTN said that Vanhelleputte had not been notified of the grounds for his deportation and was working to establish precise reasons for it.
“We are understandably concerned about these developments and are engaging with the authorities to seek understanding that would lead us to resolving this matter,” it said.
The group said it had appointed current chief technology officer Gordian Kyomukama as acting chief executive.
Peter Takaendesa, a portfolio manager, said the frosty relations between MTN and Uganda are not material to the bigger MTN group, but do not bode well for MTN Uganda and underlying issues had to be resolved.
Takaendesa said the deportation was related to the government’s push for higher spectrum fees and ongoing demands across Africa to list on the local stock exchanges.
“It is common in African countries when governments want to push for higher spectrum fees. You have to resolve the issues over time. MTN ran into similar problems in Benin and the issues were resolved,” he said, referring to Stephen Blewett, who was ordered to leave the West African country in 2017.
MTN group chief executive Rob Shuter met President Yoweri Museveni at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, just days after the telecoms group’s three senior managers were arrested and deported from the country in a bid to mend relations with Uganda.
But just like the three managers, the country deported Vanhelleputte on national security concerns.
MTN fell 1.83 percent on the JSE on Friday to close at R84.40.