Yusuf Saloojee, former Iran ambassador linked to alleged corrupt MTN deal, wholly innocent - lawyer

ANC veteran Yusuf Saloojee. (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
ANC veteran Yusuf Saloojee. (Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Although former South African ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee, died before "baseless" corruption charges against him could be withdrawn, his family is committed to demonstrating he is "wholly innocent of any wrongdoing", his lawyer said on Monday.

In a statement sent on their behalf by Fairbridges Wertheim Becker Attorneys, director Kevin Hacker, Saloojee's legal representatives, said they had intended to file their completed representations this week, "setting out the reasons why the State's case was meritless".

READ: Yusuf Saloojee, former Iran ambassador arrested over alleged corrupt MTN deal, dies

Police arrested Saloojee, 75, last month for alleged corruption relating to the awarding of a cellphone licence to MTN after it was initially given to Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri.

The retired former ambassador was accused of facilitating the cancellation of the Turkcell licence by the Iranian government, which was then awarded to MTN. His role in this process allegedly scored him earnings worth R1.4m which was then used to buy a house in Tshwane.

Saloojee, who had spent much of his life in exile before returning to SA in the early 1990s, served as ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Oman.

"Whilst he was ambassador to Iran between 2004 and 2008, MTN replaced Turkcell as the telecommunications operator in Iran's second GSM mobile license. The bid process was contested by Turkcell, following a change in Iranian law which prohibited foreign companies from holding more than 49% in the license. Turkcell failed to comply with the changed bid conditions and was eventually excluded," Hacker said.

'Kilowan - a liar, fantasist and conspiracy theorist'

"In 2012, an erstwhile employee of MTN, Mr Christiaan Kilowan, who was known to Ambassador Saloojee, made allegations about MTN's alleged misconduct in the 2005 license award. Those allegations included a claim that Mr Kilowan had lent Ambassador Saloojee an amount of money that was meant to be paid to Ambassador Saloojee by MTN.

"MTN, its executives involved in the matter, and Ambassador Soloojee have all consistently and vehemently denied any wrong doing. Instead, Ambassador Saloojee contended that he had entered into a private transaction with Mr Kilowan to exchange his United States Dollars earned offshore, for South African Rands, to part fund the purchase of a home in Pretoria. In turn the matter was fully investigated by the independent Hoffmann Commission, that found Mr Kilowan to be a liar, a fantasist and a conspiracy theorist."

Hacker said the ambassador had been on an extended visit to his daughter in Canada when in September last year the Hawks obtained a warrant for his arrest. Saloojee had ostensibly been receiving medical treatment in the country and was suffering from ill health.

Saloojee complied with the Hawks

The Hawks wanted him to return to SA. According to Hacker, Saloojee did so in February by arrangement with the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority.

The case against him had been postponed to allow him to submit representation to support the withdrawal of all charges against him, his lawyers said.

He was expected back in the dock on April 17.

Hacker said Saloojee's attorneys had completed the representations which would have been filled this week. It would set out why the State's case was meritless and that "Mr Kilowan has himself committed perjury".

"We have had full access to all the evidence in this matter including the evidence collected by the Hawks in the docket. The evidence against Ambassador Saloojee is both hearsay and in material respects, it constitutes perjury by the State's only witness. We are of the view that the charges against Ambassador Saloojee are baseless and there is no case against him.

"It is indeed very sad that Ambassador Saloojee has passed away before he had the opportunity to see the case against him withdrawn."

Saloojee's death was a "loss of a South African stalwart".

"Ambassador Saloojee's family are committed to demonstrating that the allegations against him have no substance and that Ambassador Saloojee, like MTN and its executives, are wholly innocent of any wrongdoing."

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