Africa's biggest mobile operator, MTN, yesterday hit back at Turkcell, charging that the operator was the author of its own misfortune.

JOHANNESBURG - Africa's biggest mobile operator, MTN, yesterday (Tuesday) hit back at Turkcell, charging that the operator was the author of its own misfortune in failing to obtain a mobile licence in Iran  and that the five-year old claim ‘smacks of a desperate last measure to try and extract benefits to which it is not entitled. 

MTN said it had filed a statement of defence in the long-running litigation in which Turkcell is claiming $4.2 billion in damages against it. MTN said said the claim was opportunistic, an abuse of the process of court, baseless and without merit. 

“We will not be bullied, harassed and oppressed in this matter and have every expectation that we will prevail,” MTN said in a statement yesterday. 

MTN also said that Turkcell's four previous attempts to reverse the decision, including proceedings before international arbitration panels, had failed.

“Turkcell's implausible allegations rest heavily on a disgruntled former MTN employee who has been described as a fantasist and a conspiracy theorist and whose allegations have been dismissed by an independent investigation as being a fabric of lies, distortions and inventions.,” MTN said.

File Image: IOL

The Turkcell claim follows the acquisition of a 49 percent interest in Irancell by MTN after Irancell was awarded the second GSM License in Iran in November 2005.

Turkcell approached the South African High Court in 2013 to pursue a claim against MTN based on the profits it said it would have made had it operated the Irancell licence. 

Turkcell was also claiming interest on that amount, from 2005. Turkcell instituted proceedings against the MTN Group and various MTN companies,  Phuthuma Nhleko, MTN’s executive chairman who was the chief executive at the time of the Irancell transaction, and former MTN director Irene Charnley.

As in the documents in the United States, where the claim was initially prosecuted, Turkcell alleges that MTN bribed South African and Iranian government officials. 

The operator said MTN also sought to influence South Africa’s vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency concerning sanctions against Iran- a claim MTN has rejected. 

The US claim was withdrawn in 2013 after a ruling in another case meant the US courts would not have jurisdiction to hear the Turkcell issue.  

Turkcell claims that MTN unlawfully secured the Iranian mobile phone operating licence it had won in 2004. Turkcell was not immediately available for comment. But in June, it claimed that bribery and corruption were allegedly used to overturn the initial Iranian decision

“Turkcell was declared the winning bidder for the Iranian licence in 2004, with MTN coming second. The decision was reversed in 2005 and since then MTN has operated Iran’s first private cellphone licence as MTN Irancell,” the Turkish company said at the time.

“MTN have been living with this interminable case for some time now and I can fully understand that they as well as their investors want final clarity on the legal conclusion. It would at face value appear that Turkcell are being opportunistic and want to be paid by “going away” but the truth will only be known on the resolution of the case” Denis Smit Consulting Director BMI-TechKnowledge.

MTN shares dropped 0.16 percent on the JSE yesterday to close at R122.77.

- BUSINESS REPORT