CAPE TOWN — South Africa on Tuesday said Pretoria's former ambassador to Tehran is being investigated over bribery allegations linked to mobile giant MTN's award of an operating licence in Iran.
The South African operator is being sued in a $4.2-billion (417-million-euro) lawsuit in an American court by a rival firm which claims MTN bribed officials and promised support for Iran's nuclear programme.
Foreign affairs minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said her department had "instituted an investigation into the allegations" that the diplomat had received a payment from MTN, in a written reply to a parliamentary question.
The opposition Democratic Alliance, which posted the query, welcomed the announcement of the probe into Yusuf Salojee.
"The former ambassador allegedly received a bribe payment of US$200 000 in return for assisting MTN to secure a mobile operating license in Iran," said the DA's spokesman on defence David Maynier.
MTN, which denies the claims, allegedly paid the funds to a property attorney firm in 2007 toward a home for Salojee in South Africa, he added.
Turkcell in March filed a $4.2-billion (417-million-euro) lawsuit in Washington which MTN has asked a US federal court to dismiss.
The Turkish operator claimed that MTN, which obtained a 49-percent stake in Irancell, had bribed officials and pressed Pretoria to offer weapons and diplomatic support for its nuclear programme.
It claims it had already won the deal through an international tender, but that its licence arrangement was suddenly dropped in favour of MTN in 2005.
The investigation marks a turn-around from the foreign minister's earlier position in March, when she said South Africa will not probe the allegations over the deal and that she was not away of any improper payments to officials.
Last month, South Africa's elite police wing opened an investigation into the graft allegations.
MTN's 34.7 million clients in Iran make up the company's second largest subscriber base. The company operates in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
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