File Photo: Tracey Adams

South Africa's elite Hawks police unit has opened an investigation into allegations of corruption at mobile phone giant MTN relating to its purchase of a mobile licence in Iran, a police spokesman said.

The police probe follows a $4.2 billion US civil claim filed in March by Turkish operator Turkcell accusing MTN of bribing Iranian and South African officials with cash and promises of defence equipment in order to secure the licence originally awarded to Turkcell.

“There are allegations of corruption. That's exactly what we're investigating,” Hawks spokesman MacIntosh Polela said on Tuesday.

MTN officials were also accused in the court papers of promising that Pretoria would vote favourably towards Tehran's nuclear programme at international fora trying to curb Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

MTN officials have denied any wrongdoing and described the Turkcell case as without legal merit. Pretoria has also denied that its diplomacy is for sale.

An MTN spokesman declined immediate comment on the Hawks investigation.

The scandal has thrown a harsh spotlight on MTN, a $31 billion company with close links to South Africa's ruling African National Congress and one of the country's great post-apartheid success stories.

MTN shares were 0.3 percent weaker at 13:27 SA time, a shade weaker that then overall Johannesburg stock market. - Reuters