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Wed 11 Jul 2012 10:11 AM

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Ambassador in bribe allegations over Iran telco deal

South Africa is to investigate if the diplomat took a $200,000 bribe to help MTN Group secure an Iranian licence

Ambassador in bribe allegations over Iran telco deal
Pedestrians use their Apple Inc. iPhones in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. Apple Inc. profit almost doubled last quarter, reflecting robust demand for the iPhone in China and purchases globally of a new version of the iPad, allaying the growth concerns that sliced shares 12 percent in two weeks. (Bloomberg)

South Africa's foreign ministry is investigating allegations a former ambassador to Tehran took a $200,000 bribe to help MTN Group win a mobile licence in Iran, according to government documents released on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in a response to written parliamentary questions that her department had started an investigation into the allegations against Yusuf Saloojee, currently ambassador to Oman.

Johannesburg-based MTN is being sued by Turkish rival Turkcell for $4.2 billion. The Turkish company alleges MTN bribed Saloojee and used other underhanded methods to win a licence over Turkcell in 2005.

MTN has denied the charges and called Turkcell's demands "extortionate".

Saloojee has previously not responded to Reuters requests for comment on the case, but has denied the allegations in statements published by South African media.

No one was immediately available for comment at the South African embassy in Oman.

Shadow minister of defence David Maynier from the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, who submitted the questions to the foreign minister, said the government had previously argued that an investigation was unnecessary.

"It is not clear why the department has done an about turn, but the institution of this investigation is nevertheless a welcome development," he said in a statement.

"It is imperative that the results of the investigation be made public as soon as possible."

An elite South African police unit, the Hawks, is also investigating the allegations. MTN has appointed a prominent judge in London to conduct an internal probe.

MTN Irancell, which is 49 percent owned by MTN, has become one of the South African company's most valuable holdings. It generated $1.3 billion in 2011, 9 percent of its annual revenue.

Shares of MTN were up 1.4 percent at 146.10 rand at 1443 GMT, outperforming a flat Top-40 index.