MTN, The Fish, and Project Snooker

In what reads like a scene out of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Trilogy, TurkCell has accused SA mobile operator MTN Group (MTN) of using a number of secret code-words in its attempts to bribe the Iranian government to obtain a mobile phone license in that country.

On March 28, the Turkish-based telecoms firm filed a complaint in US District Court of Columbia, Washington DC, against MTN Group, demanding $4.2 billion in damages over the award of the cellular licence in Iran in 2004.

TurkCell claims that MTN used political and monetary lures to enhance its relationships and leverage its position within Iran. “MTN undertook to eliminate TurkCell and take over [the license for itself], by bribing the Iranian government with promises of nuclear votes, defense equipment, and outright cash payments,” a portion of the complaint read.

It said that MTN paid Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Javid Ghorbanoghli, $400,000 in US dollars for his efforts to politically undermine and destroy TurkCell’s position as the license-holder, and to deliver the license to MTN.

It added that, in June 2005, MTN promised, and later paid, the South African Ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee, the equivalent of US $200,000 to help MTN deliver on the nuclear vote and weapons trafficking, and to support MTN within the Iranian government.

“Ambassador Saloojee was integral to MTN’s ultimate success in securing the License,” TurkCell said.

“Project Snooker” and “The Fish”

Within the text of complaint, TurkCell alleges that MTN went so far as to create a code name for its corrupt scheme -“Project Snooker.”

“Between February 2004 and November 2005, MTN Group worked feverishly to “snooker” its business competitor through these corrupt arrangements.”

In another part of the document filed to the court, under the title: ‘MTN Develops the Plot to “Snooker” TurkCell’, the firm said:

“Using its gathered information, MTN created a scheme to displace TurkCell as the license holder by leveraging political tensions in Iran, and taking advantage of its political connections within South Africa and Iran.”

TurkCell also claims that “The Fish” became a code-term used between MTN and the Iranian Ministry of Defense to represent the military equipment MTN promised it would deliver to Iran.

The court papers said that MTN executives – Ms. Charnley, Mr. Nhleko, Minister Lekota, and Ambassador Saloojee – met with members from the Iranian Ministry of Defense, including the Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani.

“Together they promised the Minister of Defense that South Africa would deliver “heaven, earth, and the fish,” meaning whatever military equipment he desired.”

TurkCell noted that after Minister Lekota departed Iran, Dr. Mahmoudzadeh drafted a list of specific items which constituted “The Fish”.

The Fish included:

  • Rooivalk helicopters (based on the US Apache helicopter), developed by Denel;
  • Frequency hopping military radios enabled to send encrypted messages;
  • Sniper rifles;
  • G5 howitzers, i.e., South African-developed long-range 155mm projectiles that included U.S. component parts;
  • Canons;
  • Armored personnel and landmine proof carriers developed in South Africa by Reutech;
  • Coastal radar systems technology developed by a division of Reutech;
  • Air pilot display computer chips;
  • A missile development company located off the Ivory Coast;
  • Other defense technology with US systems or components.

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MTN, The Fish, and Project Snooker