Johannesburg - Former ambassador to Iran Yusuf Saloojee has been suspended from his position at the department of international relations and co-operation, the department said on Wednesday.

“Yes, he has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation,” spokesman Clayson Monyela said.

The investigation related to allegations that Saloojee accepted payments from MTN.

Monyela said that Saloojee was “an employee of the department”, but declined to elaborate on the position Saloojee held there.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed that her department was investigating claims that “a certain ambassador received payment from a certain company” in a written response to parliamentary questions posed by the Democratic Alliance.

The Hawks announced last month that an investigation was underway into claims that MTN obtained its operating licence in the Islamic republic through corrupt means.

The claims originated from Turkish mobile operator Turkcell, which won a tender in 2004 for the second private mobile operating licence in Iran.

However, the licence was finally awarded to MTN Irancell, a consortium in which MTN holds a 49 percent stake.

The mobile phone company was accused of paying bribes to secure an operating licence in Iran, but has denied any wrongdoing.

It is alleged that MTN made a payment of US200 000 (about R1.6 million) towards the purchase of a house for Saloojee in South Africa.

Nkoana-Mashabane said her department did not receive a request from the ambassador to allow him to undertake remunerative work outside the public service. - Sapa