MTN report: Not so Ayoba
Saloojee payment remains a confusing point.
Lord Leonard Hoffmann insisted in his report to MTN that the communications giant did not pay any bribes to former South African ambassador Yusuf Saloojee.
But he ignored emails from ex-MTN director Irene Charnley acknowledging the need to repay whistle-blower Chris Kilowan for money he paid to ambassador Saloojee.
Bizarrely, she was willing to pay it out of her own pocket.
Hoffmann produced a report following an investigation into alleged bribery by MTN to obtain an operating licence in Iran.
One of the key issues in the investigation is whether MTN agreed to pay a bribe to ambassador Yusuf “Jojo” Saloojee, who was the South African envoy in Iran at the time of MTN’s pursuit of the licence back in 2004.
Hoffmann said he found Saloojee had received money from Kilowan in April 2007 to buy a house, but it was a private transaction between the two men.
“Ambassador Saloojee agrees that he borrowed the money, but says that it was a private arrangement and that he repaid half in cash almost immediately and the rest on demand a year later.”
According to Hoffmann, Saloojee paid back $100 000 in April 2007 and the remaining $100 000 in January 2008.
But Hoffmann did not ask for documentary evidence.
“We are not concerned to inquire into the state of accounts between Mr Kilowan and the ambassador. The question is whether there is any truth in Mr Kilowan’s claim that he lent the money on the strength of an assurance that, directly or indirectly, he would be repaid by MTN.”
But the inconsistencies remain. Saloojee told the committee he had a meeting with MTN chief Phutuma Nhleko about the money MTN “owed” to Kilowan.
“Ambassador Saloojee explains he went to see Mr Nhleko not on his own behalf, but on behalf of Mr Kilowan, who was in dire need of money. Mr Nhleko says that the ambassador was following up the claim that $200 000 had been promised to him (Kilowan).”
Hoffmann dismissed the contents of this meeting outright.
“We do not think we need to pursue these discrepancies.”
Charnley told the committee she was aware of Kilowan’s loan to Saloojee and agreed to pay for half of it.
“She thought (the loan) was a generous gesture and said that when she received money from a sale of shares at the end of 2008, she might take over half the loan. But then she thought better of it. This seems to us a far more plausible explanation than Kilowan’s.”
Saloojee moved from Iran to Oman and in December returned to South Africa.
He told City Press the report vindicates him: “I said right from the beginning I didn’t take any bribe.”
The department of international relations instituted an investigation into this matter.
After the report’s release last week, questions emerged about the independence of the committee.
The special independent committee chaired by Hoffmann, who was assisted by Jeff van Rooyen and Peter Mageza – both non-executive directors of MTN – cleared the company of all wrongdoing relating to the licence acquisition.
City Press also reported in November last year that Hoffmann’s daughter, Jennifer, worked for MTN group as the chief executive of MTN Mobile Money until 2008.
The committee, however, felt “this could not reasonably be regarded as affecting his impartiality and MTN agreed”.
Hoffmann described the allegations by Kilowan – who was MTN’s point man in Iran at the time – as “a fabric of lies, distortions and inventions”, and brands him as an unreliable witness. Kilowan’s back-up documents were all mostly written by him, making them not sufficient evidence, he said.
The only documentary evidence of money being paid for bribes was an invoice to businessman Mousa Hosseinzadeh intended to pay $400 000 to Javid Ghorbanoghli, the Iranian ambassador to South Africa between 1999 and 2003.
The invoice contains the signature of Nhleko, but he claims not to remember signing it. And an independent handwriting expert could not confidently say that the signature is a forgery.
- Mandy Rossouw and Andile Ntingi