File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Former South African ambassador to Iran Yusuf Saloojee’s suspension and an investigation into allegations that he took a bribe from MTN “is a good sign” that the government is committed to getting to the bottom of the alleged corruption, according to businessman Kuseni Dlamini, a former chief executive of Old Mutual Emerging Markets.

Saloojee is accused of accepting $200 000 (R1.67 million at current rates) from MTN to buy a house in Pretoria in return for him helping to secure an operating licence for the firm’s Irancell joint venture.

His suspension comes after a report published last month by Transparency International, which said South Africa had become more corrupt and dropped to position 64 on its corruption perceptions index, from 54th place in 2010.

The index tracks whether corruption is improving or worsening in 182 countries.

Dlamini, speaking as a member of the SA Institute of International Affairs council, said: “I wouldn’t read this (MTN matter) as being adverse on South Africa. Nothing has been confirmed yet.”

He said there were implications for South African businesses in emerging markets as the space was very competitive and required companies “to try all sorts of ways” but he added that all companies needed to always operate with integrity.

“I don’t buy the notion that you have to grease the wheels. It is possible to do business in emerging markets (without bribery). If you are known to be a bribe payer then you’ll be a target of those wanting bribes,” he added.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane announced Saloojee’s suspension on Wednesday, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Her spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said Saloojee, had been suspended from his post as ambassador to Oman from the beginning of this month.

Meanwhile, the DA is also pressuring the minister to investigate and suspend senior diplomat Abdul Minty.

Turkcell, in documents supporting its $4.2bn claim in the US, alleges that among other methods to obtain the second cellular licence in Iran, MTN tried to influence Minty, who served on the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to abstain from voting on Iran’s nuclear programme during an IAEA meeting.

Turkcell, which claims its bid was set aside in favour of MTN’s, alleged that during an official visit to Iran in 2004, Minty was present at a dinner with Saloojee and MTN representatives where South Africa’s position on Iran’s nuclear programme and the Iran cellular licence were discussed.

MTN allegedly also asked Saloojee to call Minty in 2005 ahead of the IAEA vote.

The DA has, however, admitted there was no evidence that MTN had influenced Minty or a suggestion that Minty took a bribe from MTN.

The DA’s David Maynier said: “These are extremely serious allegations and must be investigated… We must be absolutely sure that our foreign policy is not for sale.”