US lawsuit accuses MTN of aiding terrorist campaign

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MTN's head office in Johannesburg. Photo: Getty Images
MTN's head office in Johannesburg. Photo: Getty Images

Africa’s largest wireless carrier MTN Group and Chinese technology company ZTE were accused in a US lawsuit of indirectly supporting an Iranian terrorist campaign that resulted in Americans being injured and killed in Iraq.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York, more than 50 Americans claim MTN and ZTE did business with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, even though they knew the transactions would help finance, arm and support the Iranian group’s terror campaign in neighbouring Iraq. As a result, thousands of Americans were injured or killed between 2011 and 2016, according to the suit.

"MTN is reviewing the details of the complaint and is consulting its advisors," the company said in an emailed statement. "It conducts its business in a responsible and compliant manner in all its territories and so intends to defend its position where necessary."

ZTE spokeswoman Margaret Ma didn’t immediately respond to an email sent after hours in China.

MTN faces a similar complaint filed in 2019 by more than 150 Americans, who claim the company paid Taliban officials not to attack its mobile phone towers in Afghanistan. The South African company has done business in parts of the world other carriers consider too risky, including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. It has said it will sell its Middle East operations over the medium-to-long term.

Iran's decision to grant a licence to MTN in 2005 has been the subject of several legal claims by Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS, which was initially awarded the contract, though none has yet succeeded and MTN denies wrongdoing.

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