Head of MTN Iran probe ‘not conflicted’

2012-11-10 17:57

Hoffmann’s daughter has no links or interests in Iran, says mobile giant

Mobile giant MTN has rejected claims that the head of its commission into the MTN-Irancell scandal is conflicted.

This after it emerged that the daughter of Lord Leonard Hoffmann, who chairs the inquiry, had previously worked for MTN as a senior executive.

Jenny Hoffmann is the former CEO of MTN Mobile Banking.

But MTN rejected any notion of a conflict of interest.

“Lord Hoffmann declared on his appointment to head the MTN inquiry that his daughter had been employed by MTN Mobile Holdings for approximately 10 months over 2005/06,” said Paul Norman, MTN’s head of corporate affairs.

He said MTN Banking was a “joint venture between Standard Bank and MTN. In this role, as head of the joint venture, Jenny Hoffmann had no links or interests in Iran or in MTN’s interests in Iran.”

Hoffmann was appointed in June to chair an inquiry into allegations MTN paid bribes to senior government officials to secure a telecommunications licence in Iran.

Jenny Hoffmann was appointed to MTN by Irene Charnley, the company’s former head of north African and Middle East operations, and one of the people whose behaviour is probed by Lord Hoffmann.

MTN Mobile Banking provided services to MTN customers across Africa and the Middle East. According to her official CV, Jenny Hoffmann led this entity for a year.

She now runs a UK-registered company, Risk Frontier Consulting, which boasts MTN projects on its website. Risk Frontier specialises in mobile banking services.

When MTN was accused by Turkish mobile company Turkcell in February this year of bribing its way into the Iranian market, the company quickly moved to reassure shareholders, regulators and the public by appointing an independent judge to head an inquiry into the allegations.

In his announcement of the inquiry, MTN chairperson and senior ANC member Cyril Ramaphosa said Hoffmann would be “fiercely independent”.

He didn’t mention the judge’s daughter had worked for MTN or that Lord Hoffmann was the main subject of one of the most publicised conflict-of-interest cases in British legal history.

In 1998, Lord Hoffmann was at the centre of a legal and political drama involving the former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet was in a London hospital when Spain sought to have him extradited for war crimes. The case was taken to the British House of Lords, where it was heard.

A panel of five judges, including Hoffmann, held with a majority of 3-2 that Pinochet could be extradited.

Then Pinochet’s lawyers objected on the grounds Lord Hoffmann was conflicted. Pinochet said Hoffmann was a director of Amnesty International’s fundraising arm and he failed to declare his wife worked for Amnesty International, advocating for the extradition of Pinochet.

The House of Lords agreed with Pinochet and set aside the decision of the first panel.

When Charnley appointed Jenny Hoffmann as the CEO of MTN Banking in 2004, MTN was launching a 50-50 joint venture with Standard Bank.

At the time Charnley was commercial director for MTN and sat on the board.

Jenny Hoffmann reported directly to Charnley, who in the heady days of the search for new markets and competitive advantage, led the MTN team into Iran, under the direction of then chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko from 2004 to 2005.

In a statement, Jenny Hoffmann said she was not advertising MTN on her company’s website as she was not paid for this.

Promotional pictures of MTN’s Ubuntu Point project are displayed on Risk Frontier’s website. Jenny Hoffmann said these were “examples of the kinds of work that I was involved in”.

According to MTN, the other members of the Hoffmann commission decided “there was no potential or real conflict”.

Jenny Hoffmann is further linked to Ramaphosa and Charnley through the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). She is the former CEO of Teba Bank, now rebranded Ubank.

Teba offered entry-level banking to the members of NUM and had a recognition agreement with the union. Both Charnley and Ramaphosa held important positions in the national leadership of the NUM.

In a statement, MTN said Lord Hoffmann had an “unassailable reputation for integrity”.

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