MTN agrees to scale back Iran ops

By Peter Fabricius Time of article published Apr 26, 2012

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Cellphone operator MTN has said it might be able to scale down its operations in Iran to avoid US sanctions, the government said today.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said that MTN had said this in discussions with the government about how to avoid the “unilateral” sanctions which the US has imposed on Iran.

Ebrahim was speaking at a briefing by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperate Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and her senior staff about her department’s budget which she presented to Parliament on Wednesday.

The US sanctions on Iran are designed to pressure Tehran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons programme. But the sanctions are unusual in that they also target other countries which do business with Iran.

The sanctions, which US President Barack Obama signed into law on December 31, would cut off foreign companies like MTN from the US financial system if they continue to do business with Iran.

MTN has direct business interests in the US but the indirect impact of being cut out of the dollar system is also enormous.

Ebrahim said in an interview afterwards that MTN had told the government it would not be expanding its operations in Iran. But asked if that meant MTN had also agreed to scale down its Iran operations, he said it had.

But Ebrahim added that there were no indications yet if the US would accept a scaling down of MTN’s ooperations or would demand that it would pull out of Iran entirely.

The Iran contract is believed to be one of MTN’s largest and most profitable foreign investments.

Ebrahim said the government was not involving itself in helping MTN in the court case it is fighting in the US with the Turkish cellphone company Turkcell which is claiming that MTN bribed SA government officials, including the former ambassador to Iran Yusuf Saloojee, to try to influence Iran to switch the cellphone concessions from Turkcell to MTN.

Ebrahim would not comment on the allegations of bribery directed against Saloojee and other officials. He noted that the issue at present was still whether or not the US courts had jurisdiction over the case.

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