South African mobile operator MTN has been named among seven other companies in a new US lawsuit alleging that the companies paid off terrorists to continue business operations in the Middle East.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of hundreds of US citizens, including service members, who were severely injured, or whose loved ones were killed or severely injured, in Afghanistan by Taliban terrorist attacks that were planned by, authorised by, and sometimes jointly committed with al-Qaeda.
In the case, 385 Americans filed an Anti-Terrorism Act lawsuit against eight multinational corporations that have done business in Afghanistan.
The Anti-Terrorism Act case accuses these corporations of knowingly or recklessly supporting a terrorist campaign that attacked, killed, and wounded thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.
The defendants being sued include certain parent companies and/or subsidiaries of Centerra Group, Environmental Chemical Corporation, G4S, DAI Global, Janus Global Operations, Black & Veatch Special Projects Corporation, the Louis Berger Group, and MTN Group.
The complaint alleges that the companies were engaged in a longstanding scheme to maximise profits by providing “protection payments” to the very terrorists who were murdering American service members.
According to the complaint, some of the corporate defendants were hired by the US Government to provide security, others were in Afghanistan to provide telecommunications, logistics, or other support services.
The complaint alleges that what all the defendants had in common was the decision to pay off known terrorists so that their business interests would be left alone.
The allegations in the complaint show that these payments violated US law and policy, and they fuelled violence and corruption in direct opposition to the efforts of thousands of American military and civilian personnel.
“As alleged in the complaint, several of the corporations in the Anti-Terrorism Act case helped the Taliban and Iran,” said Ryan Sparacino, a partner at Sparacino PLLC.
“Consider MTN, which is Iran’s official telecom partner. As alleged in the complaint, MTN made millions in protection payments to the Taliban while pledging to be ‘neutral’ towards the Taliban and to ‘obey’ the terrorists’ orders to shut down cell towers in order to interfere with American counter-terrorism operations and intelligence gathering.
“As Taliban terrorists continue to attack and kill Americans in Afghanistan, MTN’s continued ‘neutrality’ towards the Taliban is as appalling as it is illegal. Given the history of MTN’s relationship with Iran, however, it is hardly surprising.”
MTN said in a statement that a complaint for the violation of the anti-terrorism act was filed on 27 December.
“The complaint was filed on behalf of American service members and civilians, and their families, who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2017,” it said.
“The complaint alleges that several Western businesses supported the Taliban by, inter alia, making payments to ensure the protection of their infrastructure.”
“The defendants named in the complaint are six different groups one of which is MTN and certain of its subsidiary companies including MTN Afghanistan.”
MTN said it is reviewing the details of the complaint and is consulting its advisers. However, it “remains of the view” that it conducts its business in “a responsible and compliant manner in all its territories”.
It therefore intends to defend its position where necessary.
The full complaint is embedded below: