Mobile operator Turkcell’s loss of a cellular licence in Iran was a consequence of the telecommunications group’s failure to meet the conditions set out by the Iranian government, MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa said on Thursday.
Turkcell has filed a suit in the US against MTN, claiming that it won the licence by lobbying South Africa to back Tehran's nuclear development and by bribing officials of both governments.
Dabengwa said the allegation that MTN influenced South African foreign policy was “simply ludicrous” and dismissed suggestions that Turkcell’s failure to obtain a licence was as a result of corrupt practices by MTN.
He said the Turkcell consortium was not awarded the licence in Iran, as it failed to meet legal and commercial requirements. A consortium that included MTN as the noncontrolling shareholder was awarded the licence in 2005.
Earlier this month, former MTN CEO Phuthuma Nhleko also denied any bribes were authorised under his watch to secure the Iran licence.
Nhleko, who stepped down as CEO in March 2011 after ten years at the company, slammed Turkcell’s legal action as opportunistic and said the allegations were “far-fetched and without foundation”.
Meanwhile, Dabengwa denied allegations over Irancell’s complicity in human rights abuses, stating that the telecommunications group upheld clear ethical standards, with the expectation that the people MTN does business with abide by these standards.
MTN established an ethics committee to guide the company’s approach to such issues and ensure that it follows best international practices.
“One of our core values is to respect human rights and the privacy rights of people in all the markets in which we operate. We oppose the abuse of such rights by any party, including governments,” he stated in response to the accusation that MTN folded to the government's request for access to subscriber information.
He further noted that Irancell was bound by Iran laws and requirements, which enabled certain government agencies the power to access subscriber details and intercept telephone lines. This would have been the case irrespective of who Irancell’s shareholders were: whether MTN or Turkcell.
Meanwhile, MTN further emphasised that any software and equipment provided to Irancell by MTN was for normal business reasons.
“To suggest that we intended to acquire such equipment with the purpose of enhancing the Iranian government’s capacity to monitor its citizens outside the law or restrict their access to services is offensive,” he said.
The development of mobile telecommunications, while a “powerful force” for social and economic liberation in the developing world, presented new ethical dilemmas and the potential for manipulation by governments and citizens for unethical means. Dabengwa emphasised that while the company did not “shrink from these debates”, discussions had to be founded on facts not fantasy.