3 June 2022

MTN Group Bribery Case: We’ll vigorously defend against unfounded Turkcell bribery allegations, says MTN

mtn-lusakaWhile MTN Zambia is making very positive headlines locally, internationally the headlines are not so celebratory. Yesterday afternoon, a press release from the MTN Group came through, and the message was very short;

The MTN Group has noted reports that Turkish mobile phone operator Turkcell Iletisim AS (Turkcell) has re-filed its lawsuit against MTN in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. At this stage, MTN cannot comment further as we have not received or viewed the court papers.

Although we don’t have details of the case, MTN continues to believe that there is no legal merit to Turkcell’s claim and will accordingly oppose it.

This in reference to the US $4.2 billion lawsuit they have been re-slapped with. Re-slapped because a similar lawsuit was filed by Turkcell in the US last year but was later dropped due to jurisdictional issues. The case is basically that Turkell says it suffered losses, a result of MTN bribing their way to win a mobile network operator licence in Iran that initially awarded to Turkcell.  You can read MTN’s version of the events here on their website.

So anyway today they sent through another press release with a bit more flesh. The release essentially repeats that MTN did no wrong and that they will fight the lawsuit as its based on unfounded allegations. Here’s the full press release:

MTN Group will vigorously defend the Turkcell lawsuit, the Turkish operator‘s fifth claim arising from the unsuccessful bid to obtain a mobile licence in Iran.

The latest attempt by Turkcell was issued out of the South Gauteng High Court this week. Like the four previous cases, this matter emanates from Turkcell’s alleged grievances arising from its unsuccessful bid to obtain a mobile licence in Iran, and the award of that licence to Irancell.

While the summons has not yet been served on it, MTN understands that the claim is now made against MTN, its wholly owned subsidiary, MTN International (Mauritius) Limited (MTNI) and others, in which Turkcell claims an amount of some US$4.2 billion, plus interest and legal costs

By way of background, three of the suits brought by Turkcell and its subsidiary, East Asian Consortium (EAC) have already been dismissed, including one against MTN and MTNI.

In late 2005, EAC was unsuccessful in its bid before the Iranian Court to restrain the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications from committing what the EAC alleged were breaches of certain statutory requirements and agreements.  This was followed by arbitration in 2008 against the Iran government under the Turkey-Iran Bilateral Investment Treaty, which has not yet been decided.

Also in 2008, EAC commenced an arbitration under the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) against Iran Electronic Development Company for alleged breach of a shareholder’s agreement concluded between the parties in 2004. The ICC Tribunal dismissed Turkcell’s claims in a final award in April 2012.

Turkcell filed a suit against MTN in the USA in March 2012, accusing the company of bribery and other acts of corruption that it said caused it to lose out on the license to operate a mobile network in Iran.

MTN’s belief was that it was entirely inappropriate and opportunistic for Turkcell to invoke the Alien Tort Statute to bring a commercial dispute between a Turkish company and a South African company before a US court.  The 1789 law, usually cited in human rights and torture cases, gives US courts’ jurisdiction in some instances to consider claims by foreigners for illegal conduct that occurred in another country.

Turkcell’s US suit was dismissed in May this year, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on another case significantly curtailed the reach and ambit of the Alien Tort Statute.

The lawsuit now launched in South Africa is the fifth, and is premised on substantially the same unfounded allegations which were made in the US proceedings.

As MTN, we view this as nothing but a spurious attempt to claim monies to which Turkcell is not entitled.

MTN maintains that it did not cause Turkcell to lose out on its obtaining a mobile licence in Iran, as has been claimed by Turkcell.  Its inability to procure the licence was as a result of its own failings, and not because of any impropriety by MTN (which is strongly denied).

In February 2012, the MTN Group Board commissioned Lord Hoffmann to head an independent Committee to investigate the allegations made by Turkcell in the legal case brought against MTN in the United States. After a lengthy and thorough process, the Hoffmann Committee concluded that Turkcell’s allegations were without foundation, and that nothing in the conduct of MTN over that period put at question MTN’s integrity or propriety.

The Hoffmann Committee cleared MTN of the bribery allegations.

The Hoffman report itself, a document of over 500 pages, is accessible to any member of the public via our website. And as Lord Hoffman noted in the report, in compiling their findings, the Special Committee received full co-oporation from MTN and was given unrestricted access to all individuals, information, documents and facilities it requested.