Minister crosses lines with MTN

2012-04-28 14:31

For the second time in as many months, Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim has put his foot in it.

Ebrahim told the audience during a departmental breakfast event on Thursday, which was broadcast live on SABC2, that MTN was considering scaling down its operations in Iran.

“MTN has said they are planning no new expansion in Iran, (and are also planning to) scale down operations. The US has indicated they would be quite happy if they only scale down,” he said.

This comes at the same time that MTN is being taken to court in the US about, among other allegations, alleged bribery of South African ambassador to Iran Yusuf Salojee in 2005. MTN is being sued by Turkcell, the company that lost out when MTN received the mobile operators’ licence in Iran.

Ebrahim was asked at the event about the threat of sanctions against MTN by the US.

The US plans to disallow any foreign government or company access to the US financial system if they continue to do business with Iran.

Ebrahim’s statement, however, left MTN fuming because such information is sensitive and no decision about the matter has been taken.

“The board has not even met yet. How could he be saying this?” said a source close to MTN.

Ebrahim also was left red-faced in March when he boldly claimed at a press briefing that South Africa had stopped oil imports from Iran, which is South Africa’s second-largest oil supplier.

His statement left government officials scrambling because although the government is looking for alternative options for oil imports, it has not stopped its imports from Iran.

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