MTN to defend ‘opportunistic’ $4.2 billion suit in South African court

By TJ Strydom

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – MTN said on Tuesday that a $4.2 billion claim by Turkcell in a South African court over a disputed Iranian mobile phone license was “opportunistic” and “baseless”, issuing the statement after filing a defense plea.

Turkcell first sued MTN in a U.S. court in 2012, alleging the firm used bribery and wrongful influence to win a lucrative Iranian license that was originally awarded to Turkcell.

It dropped the suit a year later after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a separate case made clear U.S. courts would not have jurisdiction in a claim involving two foreign firms in an overseas dispute.

A year later, Turkcell filed in South Africa, where the case has been stuck in procedural wrangling since.

“Turkcell’s claim is opportunistic, an abuse of the process of court, baseless and without merit,” MTN said in a statement after filing a defense plea on Monday.

Turkcell said in a statement MTN’s pleas were “meritless, technical legal defenses” and would be rejected by the court.

“Today’s events are a positive step forward in our case, and MTN’s admissions are confirmation of our claims,” Turkcell Executive Vice President for Legal Issues Serhat Demir said, without saying which claims it believed MTN had admitted to.

MTN obtained the license in Iran in 2005 and maintains that Turkcell missed out because it would not comply with an Iranian rule that caps the shareholding in the license at 49 percent.

Iran is MTN’s third largest market out of the 22 countries the company operates in.

MTN previously appointed a retired British judge to lead an external investigation into Turkcell’s allegations. That probe dismissed the accusations, calling them “a fabric of lies, distortions and inventions”.

(Reporting by TJ Strydom in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by David Dolan in Istanbul; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)