File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

MTN and the US administration are in close dialogue to repatriate the group’s funds and the approach has the full support of the South African government, the second-biggest local cellular operator said on Thursday.

The company has a 49 percent shareholding in Irancell, which generates 10 percent of MTN’s total revenue.

MTN has been hit by the sanctions initiated by the US in order to force Iran to abandon its nuclear programme.

The cellular operator said: “We believe it is in everyone’s interest that these MTN funds, currently held in Iran, should be repatriated and are working hard to achieve this outcome.“

MTN operates in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East. In a statement, it said: “Irancell has around 38 million subscribers in Iran, many under 21. The role that mobile technology continues to play in widening economic and political freedoms across the developing world is critical. MTN is proud to be a leader in this.

“We are the leading provider of mobile communications to Africa and the developing world. Our values and business ethics are proudly South African,” the group said.

“MTN has never encouraged or supported its cellular technology to infringe (on) human rights.”

At a presentation of MTN’s first-half results last week, the telecom’s chief financial officer, Nazir Patel, said a devaluation of Iran’s rial could have a ”severe impact” on MTN’s second-half earnings.

The rial has tumbled against the US dollar in free market dealings as traders have anticipated a devaluation in the official exchange rate.

MTN reported a group revenue increase of 17.5 percent due to solid growth in South Africa, Iran and Ghana of 9.5 percent, 29.9 percent and 19.9 percent respectively.

In March, Turkish cellular operator, Turkcell, sued MTN for $4.2 billion (R33.9bn) in the US. It alleged that MTN violated the US Alien Tort Statute by engaging in bribery of an Iranian and South African government official in connection with MTN’s participation in the Irancell consortium; that MTN encouraged the South African government to take a favourable position toward Iran’s civil nuclear power development programme at a meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency; and that MTN enlisted South African government support for the provision of military equipment.

On July 2, MTN moved to dismiss the case on the basis it lacked legal merit. On July 30, Turkcell filed an opposition to the motion. MTN’s replying affidavit is due on Wednesday.