Cellular network operator MTN was approached by its Iranian mobile license rival Turkcell Iletism late last year in an attempt to "extort" the US$4.2 billion (R33 billion) the Turkish company is now claiming in a US court.
A source who has intimate knowledge of MTN's involvement in Iran and was involved in the negotiations that led to MTN being awarded the license in 2005 described Turkcell's allegations as "...a fabrication that reads like a thriller".
The source, who does not want to be named for fear of jeopardising MTN's response to the Turkcell claims, said the Turkish company had been sore losers both in getting the license and in the internationally supervised arbitration process that followed afterwards, in the French capital of Paris.
"Turkcell was the Iranians' first choice when they were about to award the license. However, Turkcell could not come up with the investment required and it also refused to accept all the license conditions. MTN, which was the second choice, managed to have the money to invest and agreed to the license conditions," the source said.
The source alleged that MTN had been approached by Turkcell late last year with a claim that the SA owned group should pay it the $4.2 billion that the license was estimated to be worth with the threat of court action aimed at harming MTN's reputation.
"Turkcell's approach was all about money. It had absolutely nothing to do with any type of social conscience," the source said.
MTN Group spokesperson Xolisa Vapi refused to comment directly on the specifics of the source's comments saying the group was still determining its legal strategy on how to deal with the Turkcell complaint.
"It is very difficult for us to respond to specific issues at the moment as we have our own internal ivestigation and we are working out how to deal with the other allegations," Vapi said.
MTN has appointed British jurist Lord "Lenny" Hoffmann to head its own inquiry and has stated that if any wrong doing was found then the law enforcement authorities would be notified.
Former Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota has denied allegations by Turkcell that MTN tried to convince or use him to facilitate an arms deal with Iran that would have been in contravention of international sanctions.
"I visited Iran twice to discuss issues with them and I think MTN were part of both business delegations. But I was not involved with any of their discussions and MTN most definitely did not pay for my trips. Memorandums from the Department of Defence from that time will prove this," he said.
Lekota also said that SA's arms exports were governed by law that stated the country was not allowed to export any offensive weapons to a country that was engaged in conflict.
"If MTN had promised Iran weapons and then was not able to deliver, as stated in the Turkcell affidavit, the Iranian's would not have hesitated to throw us out," the former MTN source said.
Turkcell's US attorneys were asked to comment on behalf of their client, but had not responded by late on Thursday.