MTN ‘panicking’ over US Treasury sanctions
Sanctions announced this week by the US Treasury against Iranian individuals and companies have led to panic at mobile operator MTN.
The three executive orders released on Friday target 17 individuals believed to be related to human rights abuses by the Iranian government, as well as to supporting terrorism and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
According to sources, the mobile operator is concerned sanctions will cause a hardening of attitudes in the US against the company.
MTN is being sued in the US for allegedly bribing Iranian officials to obtain an operating licence, while it is negotiating with the US Treasury to allow the operator to expatriate its cash profits from Iran before the Iranian rial completely bottoms out.
MTN sources are also saying they are worried the US judiciary will rule against them if public sentiment sways out of their favour. Said one: “This is an SA company that should not be subjected to US foreign policy decisions.”
The sanctions are meant to punish those “engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12 2009 that prohibit, limit or penalise the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran”.
“These sanctions target those in Iran who restrict or deny the free flow of information to or from the Iranian people, and who limit or prohibit the exercise of freedoms of expression or assembly,” the US Treasury said in a statement.
In his deposition, former MTN executive Chris Kilowan told a US court MTN installed software to intercept data and calls by mobile phone users for the Iranian government. “We had to get a certificate from the intelligence to certify the lawful intercept (sic) system has been installed, been tested and that they’re happy with it,” he said.
Nathan Carleton, communications director for Washington-based lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran, told City Press: “MTN stands out as one of the single most irresponsible businesses in the world and should be ashamed of the depths it has gone to in pursuit of profit … We hope South African legislators will hold MTN accountable for its systematic human rights violations, corruption and illegalities.”
By time of going to press, MTN was not available for comment.