Turkcell files $100m defamation case against MTN

Turkcell has filed a defamation case against SA mobile operator, MTN Group (MTN), accusing the firm of making false statements.

The above filing is part of a wider complaint filed by the Turkish-based telecoms firm in the US District Court of Columbia, Washington DC, on March 28, 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.

In a press release following the court application titled: “MTN denounces Turkcell’s extortionate litigation threat,” MTN said it strongly condemned Turkcell’s attempt to use the threat of a US legal claim to extort money from the group.

Within the text of Turkcell’s claim against MTN, the Turkish telecoms firm said: “MTN’s March 12, 2012 press release knowingly, and intentionally, accused Turkcell of making an “extortionate litigation threat” and of refusing to cooperate with the independent investigation that MTN has set up.”

“Both of these statements are false.”

Turkcell said that, at the time it issued the press release, MTN knew its accusations of extortion and refusal to cooperate to be false.

“MTN’s statements are defamatory per se in the District of Columbia, because they are false criminal charges and directly attack Turkcell’s reputation for ethical business practices and honesty,” the text read.

Turkcell noted that the press release was published throughout worldwide media distribution channels, including within the US. Social media outlets reprinted the extortion falsehood. Twitter feeds show that, within two days of the press release, the claim of extortion was republished over 70 times worldwide.

“MTN knew, anticipated, foresaw, and intended that its press release would be distributed and read throughout the United States, including in the District of Columbia, and damage Turkcell. MTN knew, anticipated, foresaw, and intended that its press release would negatively impact Turkcell’s stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange and elsewhere,” the complaint stated.

“Defamation per se is actionable without proof of special damages. Regardless, Turkcell has suffered, and continues to suffer, irreparable harm to its reputation as a result of MTN’s defamatory statements in an amount to be proven at trial but no less than $100 million.”

“MTN defamed Turkcell with ill will, recklessly, wantonly, oppressively, in willful disregard of Turkcell’s rights, and in a manner tending to aggravate Turkcell’s injury. Punitive damages should, therefore, be awarded to Turkcell reflecting the egregiousness of MTN’s actions,” the statement said.

MTN said that talks between it and Turkcell had broken down “as a result of Turkcell’s extortionate demands for damages and their threat to start a frivolous lawsuit in the US.”

“Turkcell’s threat to abuse the US legal system to pressure MTN will not succeed,” said an MTN spokesman.  “Turkcell’s accusations involve conduct alleged to have taken place in South Africa and Iran, and have no connection to the United States,” the group said.

MTN added that it is committed to resolving the issue through Lord Hoffmann’s inquiry.

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Turkcell files $100m defamation case against MTN