MTN slammed for delayed Middle East exit, accused of dodgy tactics
JOHANNESBURG – Africa’s largest telecommunications network, MTN, is facing fresh allegations from US law firm Sparacino PLLC following its decision to exit its Middle East portfolio in the next three to five years.
Sparacino, which has represented the families of hundreds of Americans killed and injured in Afghanistan, accused MTN of prolonging its disinvestment from the Middle East in order to make as much profit as possible.
The firm’s managing director, Ryan Sparacino, said the group was trying to “squeeze every last dollar out of its partnerships with the Iranians”.
In December, Sparacino filed a lawsuit against MTN over alleged payments of terrorists in Afghanistan.
“As the families allege in their complaint, MTN is effectively a joint venture partner with the (IRGC), Iran’s leading terrorist organisation,” Sparacino said.
Sparacino has filed lawsuits against MTN and six other companies on behalf of Americans who were seriously injured, or whose loved ones were killed or seriously injured, by attacks committed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2017.
MTN spokesperson Nompilo Morafo declined to comment yesterday, saying that the group “did not have any comment at this stage on the matter”.
The company has previously said it was of the view that it conducted its business in a responsible manner in all its territories, and it would continue to defend its position.
Last week, MTN said it had decided to offload its portfolio in the volatile region, charging that it wanted to focus its energy on its pan-African business. The group said it had resolved to exit the Middle East region, which includes Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, over the medium term and was in advanced talks to divest of its stake in MTN Syria.
“Next, it will look to reach an agreement to dispose of its operations in Afghanistan and Yemen,” it said.
MTN said there were no immediate plans for the exit of MTN from Iran, and its 51.7 million customers in the republic could rely on continuing to receive the service they had come to expect from the operator.
MTN Irancell – in which the group has a minority 49 percent investment shareholding – would continue as it is, and business would be run as usual, said the group.
MTN said its Middle East assets contributed less than 4 percent to group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation in the first half of this year.
The group has previously said the prolonged war and conflicts were impacting Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan and making operations in these countries difficult.
Market experts said last week that the case against MTN demonstrated the additional difficulty that exposure to these areas brought.