Will #Mali’s new government herald arms or armies?

gingerbreadman1
Standard

In less time than it takes for an apartment pineapple to ripen, a new government of national unity has been formed in Mali in the latest effort to restore stability after the military coup in March. It follows 5 long months of political tug-of-war between the ready-meal interim government and the frozen-dinner coup leadership headed by Captain Sanogo. The Captain was persuaded to release his grip a little, after his palms were oiled with a palatial home and “former head of state” status – including a generous allowance. The cabinet has 31 ministers, including five from Sanogo’s camp. The head of the interim government, Cheick Modibo Diarra, stays on as prime minister. For now.

Early-stage pre-coup pineapple during US training

During this incubation period, interim President Dioncounda Traore was attacked, and spent several weeks recovering in Paris. No doubt he spent more of that time in the briefing room of  Boulevard Mortier  than in recovery. Shortly after Dioncounda returned to Mali, one of the former President’s elite Red Beret guards, Staff Sergeant Amadou Traore, was murdered in his barracks. That signal seems to have been received loud and clear; no further attacks on the interim president have been reported yet.

Last month, the regional bloc ECOWAS threatened to expel Mali unless a unity government was installed, according to the BBC. Yesterday, there were news reports of ECOWAS and Algeria [ar] barring military shipments to Mali. Meanwhile, Major General Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, Libya’s former Deputy Director of Military Intelligence and Chairman of the Republican Guard in Benghazi, reveals that, when there was a weapons amnesty and surrendering of arms in Libya last year, his unit alone boycotted the deal and instead their weapons passed to mercenaries from Egypt, for onward transfer to AQIM in Algeria and Mali. Doubly painful, as it was the ousted former president Touré, aka “ATT”, who said in February that they needed more military hardware to respond to the MNLA’s attacks, widely reported to be using massive fire-power brought back from Libya.

Weapons in 30 Days or Your Next Government Half Price

We need to wait to see if the formation of a new unity government defrosts the supply of arms, and whether they’ll be delivered by shipment or in person. Just last weekend, Al Jazeera Arabic reported a training exercise in Libya (irony alert) of 2,000 troops including 800 special forces from Great Britain, France, Spain and Italy, in preparation for an incursion into Malian territory. The training programme lasted from February to June. Here’s the video:

There are many competing theories about what is going on in Mali. One school of thought insists that the plan is, and always has been, to get the boots of foreign troops on the ground. However, just as with the reports of armed rebels severing someone’s hand as a punishment for stealing (and the victim later dying), and of their threat-or-promise to repeat the exercise with hundreds more after the Eid holiday, or even of the beheading* that UNHCR’s spokesperson Melissa Fleming claimed to have happened, there’s no way of knowing if the scenario portrayed in this video sheds light on the actual situation.

How can we figure Mali out? To butcher the old standard, “follow the ransom money” and we find food for thought. For example, fresh claims of Swiss support for the rebels appeared last week. This was denied by the MNLA as a rumour created by a Swiss journalist and promoted to a fact by a website in Mauritania, where the media has carved a niche for exclusive revelations about Mali.

I was anticipating more mention of Switzerland, after a Swiss woman was apparently taken hostage in Timbuctu by a private militia who planned to trade her to AQIM. The lady was reportedly “rescued” by Ansar Dine and released for an alleged 1 million Euro, in a deal where they demanded to liaise directly with the Swiss officials, rejecting the offer of a human rights NGO to mediate.  That event was soon followed by a spectacular betrayal of MNLA by Ansar Dine, who hijacked the uprising and forced the secular separatists into a retreat from which they have yet to emerge. Speculation about how the more radical supporters of religion achieved this feat includes the investment of ransom capital to buy supporters. There have been other kidnappings: three Westerners abducted nearly nine months ago by AQIM in Mali, seen today urging their governments to help free them in an Al-Jazeera television exclusive video, and the seven Algerian diplomatic staff taken from the embassy in Gao, three of whom were returned last month, shortly after the release of one Italian and two Spanish hostages. This last exchange was said to be accompanied by a few more million Euro and the release of two more prisoners – one assumed by some to be connected to the POLISARIO – who were being held in Mauritania for their part in the kidnapping of the three Europeans.

Within days Mauritania benefited from a capitulation by the EU (Note: the EU Africa team is led by a Spaniard) finally agreeing to their exorbitant new terms for renewing the fishing agreement, and an agreement from Spain to salvage the small aircraft “donated” to Mauritania in June last year to help in the fight against illegal immigrants, and which had remained, unairworthy and stranded on the tarmac, more or less the whole time.

This brings me to another stranded plane – the famous “Air Cocaine” Boeing jet from South America which landed/crashed just north of Gao in a village called Tarkint at the end of October 2009, and was reportedly torched by the smugglers after their cargo of drugs had been retrieved. The local mayor was known as an intermediary with AQIM for the release of kidnap victims.

The char grilled remains of “Air Cocaine” /JON SISTIAGA

“Air Cocaine” was registered in Saudi Arabia,  rented in Venezuela, and had made previous trips from Colombia  under a licence issued by Guinea Bissau, but which had expired at some point. The drug trafficking was said to be linked to AQIM, and this flight’s cargo could have been worth anything between 150 and 300 million Euro. Some of these details only became apparent much later, after WikiLeaks’ cables release, as the original investigation was handled by the intelligence services and shrouded in secrecy.  There were dozens of arrests, but few detentions or convictions in connection with this scandal. Then last week, we learned that the last two suspects, one French, one Spanish, had been released in Mali. The drug smuggling case against the Spaniard was thrown out.  This chap is a real charmer: a former Madrid policeman, until he was busted for trafficking, drugs, explosives, weapons, and counterfeit identity documents. He also had a suspended sentence in Mali connected to the gruesome murder [es] of a Colombian with a forged Ukrainian passport. He apparently plans to stay in Mali. One would hope he is short of alternatives but why leave Mali, when half the world is ready to come to you?

Additionally, a wealthy businessman from Tilemsi in the Gao region – Mohamed Ould Awaynat – who had been sentenced to one year in prison for his part in the trafficking scandal, was reportedly released in January this year, in an alleged deal with the Malian government. In exchange for his freedom, he is said to have paid to recruit and train northern fighters to boost the ranks of the army against the MNLA. They do say money makes the world go around. If you add massive cash flows from drug trafficking it begins to spin put of control. That is certainly what appears the be the case in Mali.

All these rebel groups in Mali seem like just so many finger puppets. But to which “invisible hand” do the fingers belong?

If you enjoy bizarre details – and you’ve got this far, so I should take that as given – then you might be further entertained by the fact that the article in the previous link, by Andy Morgan in Think Africa Press, was posted on FaceBook in a now lifeless MNLA group, requiring 14 comments to post in its entirety. The comment poster uses the name Ghazi Agizul and, although his bio says he’s a proud Amazigh from Tunisia, I found it odd that “Ghazi” used a translation tool to render the English original into French, which should be a natural language for him. That he didn’t post a link to Google Translate or use a Note instead of 14+ comments is not mysterious, only irritating. If it transpired that Andy Morgan and Ghazi Agizul were one and the same person, that would be interesting. It would also raise many general questions about the clandestine online and offline activities of certain people who present themselves publicly as working in the media, but that is a whole other story. Going back to the article itself, it’s too lengthy to analyse in depth but there are some factual errors, which always has the effect of eroding credibility. For example,  Mr Morgan claims to have spent years in northern Mali, yet placed Kati near Timbuktu. I wouldn’t blame him if the article was simply too long for him to cope with when it got to proof-reading.

Also in the WikiLeaked cable, we learn of another incident involving a plane:  US military making a “hard landing” 65 miles from Bamako, and receiving assistance. ATT was happy to help because “he knew the United States was coming to help Mali”. Sadly, nothing could be done to help the three US military and their three civilian companions who died in a vehicle accident in April this year. Will the US be coming to help again; will they feel they no longer need an invite?

Short of the IAEA declaring that there are nuclear weapons hidden in the barren wastelands of northern Mali, I wonder how many more UN agencies or NGOs can enter the fray, wringing their collective hands over the many unverified domestic dramas that they claim are engulfing this most coveted of would-be war zones, declaring every incident a war crime, and clamouring at the gates to be allowed in to rescue Mali from itself and the horrors of Sharia law’s unjust desserts.

As ATT noted in February, with a prescience we have yet to fully to appreciate: “There are many rumors. If we are not careful, we’ll fall into the hands of those who are attacking Mali and who want to oppose the government.”

*I assume Ms Fleming meant to say “stoning” – but there is no solid evidence of that having happened, either. If she did witness a beheading, I’d have liked her to verify in reply to my question, especially since her bio includes the phrase “Tweets highlight the stories of human suffering and resilience I witness every day.” [my emphasis].

Related Posts

Message from 3 Western hostages in #Mali. Better late than never

AQIM hostage Sjaak Rijke, Netherlands
Standard

I wonder how long Mauritanian Arabic news website Sahara Medias had this video before they uploaded it to YouTube? The hostages were kidnapped in Timbuktu last  November, they hold letters with a date written in big, visible writing on each envelope saying “23 01 2012″ but the video was only released on 13 July 2012, just at the same time 7 Algerian diplomats are released.

Mali hostages say treated well in first message

Three hostages kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in northern Mali last year said they were in good health and being treated well in their first video message seen by Reuters on Friday.

The three men from South Africa, the Netherlands and Sweden were seized on November 25 by gunmen who killed a fourth person as the group walked along a street in the northern Mali town of Timbuktu.

The kidnapping happened weeks before a mix of secular and Islamist rebels, some with links to al Qaeda, took up arms against Mali’s government. The insurgents later took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to take control of the country’s desert north.

In the 53-second film posted on video sharing website YouTube, the Dutch citizen appeared alone inside what looked like a mud hut and spoke first. He held an envelope with the date “29.01.2012” written on it.

AQIM hostage Sjaak Rijke, Netherlands

“I am Sjaak Rijke. I am from the Netherlands. I am with al-Qaeda and I’m being treated well. I received this letter from the Netherlands today,” he said in the video.

The film then cut to the South African and the Swedish men, in an outside location, surrounded by four gunmen armed with AK-47s. The two held separate envelopes marked “28.01.2012”.

AQIM hostages Stephen Malcolm of South Africa and Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson

“My name is Stephen Malcolm. I’m with al Qaeda. Today I received this letter from my country. I’m in good health and they are treating me well,” the South African said next in the video. Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson made a similar statement.

All three men spoke in front of a flag similar to one used by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine which, along with al Qaeda faction MUJWA, now control two-thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes Timbuktu.

Al Qaeda in North Africa said in December it carried out the kidnapping. It has also said it was holding six Frenchmen, two abducted from their hotel in the northern Mali town of Hombori two days before the Timbuktu kidnapping.

Another four were kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday the six were alive, but had been separated.

#HumanTrafficking – dozens suffocated and dumped at roadside

Some of the seventy survivors. Picture: AP
Standard

Some of the seventy survivors. Picture: AP

Dozens of dead Ethiopian immigrants were dumped on the side of a road in Tanzania after suffocating in a container truck along with many others who survived, in the second fatal human trafficking incident in the country this year.

Up to 45 bodies were dumped along a busy forest highway on Tuesday, and a further 72 were found alive and taken to hospital.

“I haven’t seen anything like this … There were so many bodies lined up along the road. People in passing vehicles were shocked at the sight,” said Dodoma resident Fatuma Amir.

“When the driver discovered that there were people dying, he decided to throw them in the forest and run away with his vehicle,” deputy home affairs minister Pereira Ame Silima said.

Residents in central Dodoma were the first to report the deaths because of a foul smell. The deceased were taken to the hospital in Dodoma city.

“It is extremely sad and unfortunate that people die by using wrong and self-torturing means to illegally transport themselves to other destinations,” Silima said.

Survivors told officers that while they were locked inside the vehicle they had screamed to the driver to stop after several people passed out due to the lack of air, said police chief Zelothe Stephen.

When the driver finally stopped, he ordered the migrants to dump the corpses and clean the truck, but then sped off leaving the Ethiopians behind in a remote area.

“A manhunt is going on for the driver of the lorry that abandoned the Ethiopian immigrants by the roadside,” said Luppy Kung’alo, a Tanzanian police spokesman.

The east African country is a major transit route for migrants, used by smugglers to ferry Somalis and Ethiopians to Europe, and as believed in this case, South Africa.

The truck was probably on its way to the south-western border with Zambia and Malawi, officials said. Illegal immigrants are often smuggled by truckers from Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam to border towns.

Many immigrants pay agents between $3,000 and $4,000 to reach South Africa. The illegal trip passes through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi or Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana and then into South Africa. The shipping containers that the immigrants are crammed into can be changed several times before reaching South Africa.

In January, 20 Somali migrants suffocated to death as they were being smuggled in a cramped container truck through Tanzania. Their bodies were similarly dumped on the road.

At least 47 people thought to be illegal migrants from east Africa died when their boat capsized in a lake in neighbouring Malawi last Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled the lawless Horn of Africa country since the collapse of a formal government two decades ago, while crippling drought hit both Somalia and Ethiopia last year.

Scotsman

Project “Snooker” : #SouthAfrica’s MTN telecom #Iran bribery scandal

A customer leaves an MTN shop in Johannesburg April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Standard

Note: The United States granted South Africa an exemption from financial sanctions after Iranian imports from Iran fell 43 percent to 286,072 tonnes in April from the previous month

For a South African telecommunications company, it represented a unique chance to seize what its chief executive called “one of the most significant ‘virgin’ mobile opportunities in the world.”

But the location, he added in a memo marked “Strictly Confidential,” was “no normal country.”

The country was Iran. The company, MTN Group, was widely seen as a post-apartheid success story. Now, seven years after MTN and its local partners won a lucrative licence to launch a new Iranian mobile-phone carrier, the deal is swirling in controversy and raising embarrassing questions for South Africa at a time when the Western world is trying to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Turkcell, an Istanbul-based rival, in March filed a federal lawsuit in Washington alleging MTN bribed its way into Iran and stole the licence from under it. It is seeking at least $4.2 billion in damages. An elite South African police unit called the Hawks is investigating. MTN has denied the allegations and called Turkcell’s demands “extortionate.”

MTN has appointed a prominent judge in London to conduct an internal probe of the allegations surrounding what has become one of its most valuable holdings. In 2011, MTN generated $1.3 billion, or 9 percent of its annual revenue, from its Iran venture, the company reported.

The core of the Turkcell case is the sworn testimony of Chris Kilowan, a former MTN executive who guided the company’s bid to win the Iranian licence and has emerged as the key witness. He has turned over to Turkcell’s attorneys some 7,000 pages of internal MTN documents related to “Project Snooker” – MTN’s code name for its effort, named after a billiard game popular in Britain. “We said we are going to snooker Turkcell,” Kilowan testified.

MTN, now Africa’s largest mobile phone carrier, has called Kilowan “a disgruntled former employee” and has termed his allegations “outlandish.”

During three days of sworn testimony in Washington that concluded May 2, Kilowan presented an extraordinary tale of a multinational company so intent on winning a contract, it was willing to help Tehran obtain military hardware, sway South Africa’s votes before the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency and pay bribes, sometimes in the guise of consulting fees. MTN has yet to give evidence in the case, which is continuing and may go on for years.

Kilowan admitted fronting $200,000 of his own cash to reward South Africa’s then ambassador to Tehran, Yusuf Saloojee, for assisting MTN in Iran. Kilowan says it was MTN’s later refusal to pay him back that convinced him to cooperate with Turkcell. Saloojee, now South Africa’s ambassador to Oman, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Other South African officials denied Kilowan’s allegations.

Reuters has reviewed the entire transcript of Kilowan’s deposition, most of which has not been made public, as well as numerous other exclusive documents.

The dramatic testimony comes at a time when the Western world is trying to contain Iran with forceful sanctions intended to deter its nuclear development programme, which Iran maintains is peaceful. After choking off Iran’s banks from the international monetary system, the European Union plans to implement an embargo on Iranian oil and a ban on insuring oil cargoes on July 1.

The sanctions haven’t been leak-proof. Reuters has documented in a recent series of articles how Iranian telecoms – including the MTN joint venture – have managed to obtain embargoed U.S. computer equipment through a network of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Iranian firms. The Turkcell-MTN case offers further evidence that there are always companies willing to do business with a country even when it becomes an international pariah.

That goes for some governments as well. South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has long maintained close ties with Tehran, which during the 1980s supported the anti-apartheid underground and imposed a trade boycott on the white-ruled government.

In an interview last month with Reuters, Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary general, said he had “no problem at all” with South Africa “trading anything” with Iran today, including weapons.

“I WILL TALK TO MY PEOPLE”

Kilowan’s story begins in 2004 when MTN sent him to Iran. MTN had seemingly lost out to Turkcell for the licence to launch what would be the country’s second mobile-phone operator. He testified he began meeting with Iranian officials to determine what had gone wrong with MTN’s bid and lay the groundwork for competing for a licence to run a third carrier. At the time, Iran had just one mobile operator, Telecommunication Co. of Iran.

Kilowan said he learned from Ambassador Saloojee, who recently had arrived in Tehran, that MTN shouldn’t give up on pursuing the second licence even though it appeared Turkcell had won. It also soon became clear to Kilowan that if MTN was going to undo Turkcell’s victory, it would have to meet a long and growing list of onerous Iranian demands.

The bidding rules required foreign companies to partner with Iranian entities. Turkcell’s partners had included Sairan, which Kilowan testified was an arms manufacturer owned by Iran’s Ministry of Defence, and Bonyad Mostazafan, a foundation he said reported directly to Iran’s supreme leader.

He portrays Sairan and Mostazafan, which eventually teamed up with MTN, as manipulative and untrustworthy, and later wrote in an internal memo that MTN’s desire for the licence “should not blind us to the clear reality that we are not negotiating with honest partners.” Officials at Sairan and Bonyad Mostazafan could not be reached for comment, and Iranian diplomats in South Africa and New York did not respond to requests for comment.

Kilowan said he and two South African diplomats held an initial meeting around March 2004 with a Sairan official, who complained that South Africa had failed to deliver military radios Iran had purchased a year earlier. “You should push your government that they must sell these things to us,” Kilowan quoted the Sairan official as saying. “I said, ‘Okay, I will. I will talk to my people, and they will talk to the government.'”

MTN had longstanding connections to the South African government through the ANC, Kilowan testified. These ties are well documented: MTN was set up with government help in 1994 as one of the first black-owned companies after the end of apartheid. Many MTN officials, including chairman Cyril Ramaphosa, had been ANC activists during the struggle to end white rule. Ramaphosa has long been seen as a potential president of South Africa.

A spokeswoman for Ramaphosa referred Reuters back to MTN, which in turn referred to his public statements on the matter. Ramaphosa announced in February that MTN had set up a special committee to investigate Turkcell’s claims, saying, “MTN has zero tolerance for corrupt and unethical business practices.”

Kilowan testified that during meetings, the Iranians – people at Sairan and other government officials – repeatedly raised two requirements: their need to acquire military hardware, including drone aircraft, and to win support for Tehran’s nuclear development programme. He said he and his then boss, Irene Charnley, an MTN director, concluded that “if we could somehow develop a strategy around these two issues,” MTN might be able to win the second licence.

According to Kilowan, MTN set out to provide the Iranians access to high-level South African government officials. This included helping to arrange a visit to Iran by South Africa’s then defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, to meet his Iranian counterpart.

Lekota visited Iran in August 2004, accompanied by MTN director Charnley and its then chief executive, Phuthuma Nhleko, Kilowan testified. “It was specifically arranged so as to prove to the Iranians that MTN can deliver on the defence matters,” said Kilowan, who noted he was in South Africa at the time.

Nhleko, who left MTN last year, told Reuters in an email: “It is really not for me to comment on the visits abroad of South African government ministers.”

In response to emailed questions, Charnley, who left her executive post at MTN in early 2007, said: “Turkcell’s allegations are entirely without substance. Neither I nor MTN were in a position to influence the policies or decisions of the South African or Iranian governments, and we did not do so.”

“THE FISH”

An Iranian news agency account of Defence Minister Lekota’s two-day visit reported that he told a news conference that Iran had a right to pursue peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Iranian defence minister, Ali Shamkhani, said the two sides had discussed expanding military, economic and political ties, and had signed an agreement to expand bilateral cooperation.

In an interview with Reuters, Lekota said he travelled to Iran “on official business” and was not working on behalf of MTN. “I have never had anything to do with the MTN licence,” he said. Asked the nature of the visit, he replied, “You are subjecting me to a cross-examination of issues that happened some time ago… I don’t have access to those documents now.”

Asked about the documents, Lindiwe Sisulu, until this week South Africa’s defence minister, said her office received none of Lekota’s records when he resigned in 2008. “I’m therefore not able to answer on his behalf what it is that he was doing” in Iran, she said.

According to Kilowan, Ambassador Saloojee later showed him a wish list of arms the Iranians wanted to buy from South Africa. The shopping list included radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, long-range cannons and the Rooivalk attack helicopter – similar to the U.S. Apache. Kilowan testified that Saloojee told him, “They want everything from the earth to the sea, and everything that is in the sea and everything that flies.”

Kilowan said Iranian officials also directly told him they wanted help in acquiring military equipment, including helicopters and drone aircraft. He said he and MTN director Charnley worked to contact South African defence contractors to help deliver to Iran what MTN executives code-named “the fish” – weaponry.

“We were not promising to facilitate the arm sales,” Kilowan testified. “We were promising to get them in front of the right people for these arm sales. And if there are any bottlenecks, we would talk to the minister, for example.”

Charnley said: “The first time I heard the phrase ‘the fish’ in this context was when my attorneys briefed me on the Turkcell allegations in 2012.” She denied she tried to help Iran secure arms from South Africa.

To support Kilowan’s allegations, Turkcell’s lawyers have submitted what they say are internal MTN documents from his computers. The evidence includes an alleged fax from Charnley in November 2004 to the head of Sairan stating she was trying to set up a meeting about the helicopters between Denel, a South African, government-owned defence contractor, and an Iranian helicopter company. The document says it was “signed on her behalf by Nkateko Nyoka,” another MTN executive.

Charnley disputed the fax’s authenticity. “I didn’t send any such fax, am not aware of any such fax having been sent, and I never asked anyone to send such a fax on my behalf,” she said. Nyoka, no longer with MTN, said in an interview he didn’t know anything about the document.

Turkcell’s documents also include an alleged fax to an Iranian official from Donald Ramfolo, then a Denel regional marketing manager, stating, “We at Denel feel honoured to have received your request for cooperation in the helicopter support field.”

In an interview, Ramfolo said Denel had proposed selling Iran “aviation technology,” including fibreglass technology for drones, but MTN wasn’t involved and the South African government nixed the deal. “We were doing our own thing and MTN were doing their own thing and we didn’t mix,” he said. Ramfolo no longer works for Denel. A spokeswoman for Denel did not respond to requests for comment.

Turkcell’s evidence also includes an alleged signed agreement between MTN and its Iranian partners from September 2005 that states: “The cooperation between MTN and Iranian shareholders should be in the line of defensive, security and political cooperation. MTN shall fully support cooperation regarding the aforementioned issues in South Africa.”

Kilowan testified that the Iranians were insistent on that clause and that Nhleko signed the agreement. Kilowan said it meant “that we would continue to provide support to Sairan in particular around defence matters and we would continue to provide political support or get political support from the South African government for the Iranian government.”

Asked to comment, Nhleko said, “Neither the MTN Group nor I were in a position to influence or fetter the decisions and foreign policy of the South African government, and we did not do so.”

“A LOT OF PRESSURE”

In the end, South Africa never delivered any arms. In the case of the attack helicopters, Kilowan testified that Saloojee told him South Africa wouldn’t sell them to Iran because they contained some American technology, which was under sanctions. Kilowan said the failure to deliver the arms resulted in continued friction between MTN and the Iranians. “The non-delivery of the full fish continued to be a discussion long after,” he testified.

MTN was pressed to deliver in other ways. On the nuclear front, Kilowan testified that MTN helped pay for a trip to South Africa around late 2004 by Iran’s then-chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, so he could meet with then-President Thabo Mbeki.

“We paid for the hotels in Cape Town. We paid for the dinners, everything. We bought presents for them. And we made sure that he got to see President Thabo Mbeki,” Kilowan testified. Rowhani could not be reached for comment.

Mukoni Ratshitanga, a spokesman for former President Mbeki, said, “We’re not going to be drawn into commenting on these allegations.”

According to Kilowan, MTN was promised the telecom licence in November 2005. But when he arrived to pick it up, he said an Iranian official told him that it couldn’t be issued until a vote later that week at the IAEA in Vienna. Members were considering whether to refer Iran, which had resumed developing enriched uranium, to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

South Africa abstained. Several days later, MTN received the licence. Kilowan testified that although MTN couldn’t claim credit for the abstention, “we essentially put a lot of pressure” on the government. The South African government has denied MTN played any role.

By the time MTN received the licence to launch the new telecom, called MTN Irancell, it had made a series of concessions to its Iranian partners.

Although MTN owned 49 percent of the joint venture, it agreed to put up 100 percent of the licensing fee and capitalisation costs – 450 million euros in all. By Kilowan’s account, the Iranians essentially tricked MTN into signing a document in Farsi that committed it to paying all its partners’ share. Neither MTN nor its partners have commented on this allegation.

Over the objection of MTN’s chief financial officer at the time, Rob Nisbet, MTN structured its additional contribution as a complex series of loans, Kilowan testified. Nisbet, who has since left MTN, declined to comment.

Kilowan said he also objected to the loan arrangement. In a confidential October 2005 memo to MTN’s CEO that was reviewed by Reuters, Kilowan wrote, “They have no intention whatsoever to repay the money that they want us to advance them.”

He also wrote, “I have now arrived at the conclusion … that the primary reason they have shifted to MTN is because they have concluded that we are desperate enough for this licence that we will give anything.”

MTN’s financial statements show that the loans, originally supposed to be repaid by 2009, were renegotiated and extended. The company recently reported that three of four loans were repaid last year, with the fourth extended until 2014.

Among Kilowan’s most serious allegations is that MTN paid a series of bribes, including to Javid Ghorbanoghli, an Iranian deputy foreign minister who had once served as Iran’s ambassador to South Africa. Kilowan also alleges that payments were made to Ambassador Saloojee and six Iranian government employees he declined to name.

At a meeting at Kilowan’s Tehran house in May 2005, Kilowan testified Charnley told Ghorbanoghli: “Look, we are now entering a very delicate phase. We would really appreciate all your assistance that you can give us. And, of course, when we get the licence we will be very happy to thank you in the appropriate way for your assistance.”

Within months, Kilowan said, the Iranian diplomat began asking him about “compensation.” Kilowan said he and Charnley agreed to wait until after MTN received the licence.

After the licence was issued, Charnley suggested Saloojee also should be paid for assisting MTN, Kilowan testified.

Charnley denied this, stating, “I didn’t bribe anyone, I’m not aware of anyone having been bribed, and I wouldn’t have tolerated any bribery had I been aware of it.”

According to Kilowan, Ghorbanoghli grew agitated in 2006 over not having been paid, saying he needed money to buy a house for his children in South Africa. Kilowan said he and Charnley decided to pay him by awarding a consulting contract to an oil services company in Dubai owned by one of Ghorbanoghli’s friends.

Turkcell’s evidence includes a copy of an agreement signed by Kilowan on behalf of MTN International, a unit of MTN Group, to pay $400,000 to Aristo Oil International Services for “consulting services” related to “MTNI’s entry into the Iranian Mobile Market.”

Ghorbanoghli later confirmed the money had arrived, Kilowan testified. “He wanted more, and I negotiated it down to 400,000,” he said.

Ghorbanoghli couldn’t be reached for comment. Aristo’s managing director, Mousa Hosseinzadeh, whose name and alleged signature appear on the documents, asked Reuters for copies and then didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As for Saloojee, Kilowan testified that the ambassador approached him after learning that Ghorbanoghli had been paid. Saloojee said he needed money to buy a house in Pretoria, Kilowan said.

Kilowan testified that MTN delayed making the payment so he ended up giving Saloojee $200,000 of his own money in April 2007, through the ambassador’s attorneys, with a handshake agreement that Saloojee would repay him when MTN sent the cash.

It never did. Kilowan, who left MTN in late 2007 and is now a Dubai-based businessman, testified that he continued through early 2011 to try to recoup his money from Saloojee and MTN. When the company turned him down, he said, he decided to cooperate with Turkcell.

He testified he does not stand to benefit from the case’s outcome, other than travel expenses and compensation for time spent on his deposition and “loss of business.” He also said he bills Turkcell an hourly rate for reviewing documents in a separate arbitration case, and has received about $21,800 over the past year. As a result of this disclosure, MTN, which is trying to dismiss Turkcell’s lawsuit in the United States, recently called his testimony “paid evidence.”

Meanwhile, MTN Irancell has become Iran’s fastest-growing mobile phone operator. MTN recently reported it had 45 percent of the Iranian market.

By Steve Stecklow and David Dolan for Reuters

South Africa’s MTN Group linked to Iran and Syria mobile surveillance

mobiles
Standard

Bloomberg reports: AdaptiveMobile Security Ltd. ended its contracts with an Iranian phone company following the disclosure that the closely held firm supplied and serviced technology for monitoring and storing text messages. AdaptiveMobile also supplied MTN Syria. Both the Iranian and Syrian networks are part-owned by South Africa’s MTN.

AdaptiveMobile, based in Dublin, stopped doing business with MTN Irancell, Iran’s second-largest mobile provider, as of May 24, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based advocacy organization that pressures companies to cut business ties to Iran. The group cited an e-mail from AdaptiveMobile.

Iranian authorities use surveillance technologies to round up and interrogate political activists, according to accounts provided by victims and human rights groups. AdaptiveMobile sold technology for monitoring and storing text messages to Irancell in 2008, Bloomberg News reported last October. The company was still servicing the commercial gear. Police have access to the system, two former MTN Irancell managers said.

“We applaud AdaptiveMobile for ending its business in Iran,” said Kristen Silverberg, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, in a statement. “AdaptiveMobile has made the responsible decision, and we encourage other telecommunications companies to follow suit.”

Three AdaptiveMobile executives didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed or telephoned requests for comment. They are Brian Collins, chief executive officer; Gareth Maclachlan, chief operating officer; and Hannah Summers, who sent the e-mail to the advocacy group.

“AdaptiveMobile formally terminated all contracts with MTN Iran, and no longer has any business in the country,” Summers said in the e-mail to United Against Nuclear Iran.

2008 Transaction

The company said last year that its technologies were for fighting spam, viruses and “inappropriate content” and weren’t designed or sold for law enforcement. The company planned to cease doing business in Iran when the contract was up in late 2012, it said, because continuing the arrangement could damage its reputation.

Johannesburg-based MTN Group owns 49 percent of Irancell and operates the network.

Other authoritarian countries across the Mideast and North Africa also employ Western surveillance tools for political repression, Bloomberg reported last year.

An AdaptiveMobile document detailed the system requirements for the equipment sold in 2008 to Irancell. The technology would be used to analyze all messages in English, Persian or Arabic for keywords or phrases, store them and flag those caught by filters for review.

Syria Sale

While AdaptiveMobile executives confirmed the Irancell deal and an upgrade to the system to handle more messages, they said last year that it was intended only for commercial purposes. They denied any involvement with Iran security or police.

The Irish company told Irancell that “under no circumstances was our technology to be used for law enforcement purposes,” CEO Collins said last year in an interview.

Collins said he believed that one of Bloomberg’s sources was a former employee with an axe to grind, and that at least one of the documents in Bloomberg’s possession had been doctored, without being more specific.

AdaptiveMobile also supplied message-filtering technology to MTN Syria, the country’s second-largest mobile operator, which is 75 percent owned by MTN Group, according to four people familiar with the system, Bloomberg reported earlier this year. Amid a bloody crackdown, the Syrian government ordered blocks on text messages containing politically sensitive terms such as “revolution” or “demonstration,” according to two people familiar with the filtering systems.

At the time, Collins told Bloomberg the information was incorrect but didn’t respond to questions. Following publication of the article, AdaptiveMobile said in a statement that it hadn’t provided upgrades or new releases to Syria since 2008 and that its support agreement ended in 2011.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, during the 2009 Iranian election protests, the Chinese telecom firm Huawei carried out orders from the Iranian government on behalf of its client MTN Irancell to suspend text messaging and Skype, which is popular among political dissidents. As the anti-government protests unfolded, MTN Irancell reportedly grew more interested in acquiring location-based services, which could enable to Iranian government to track users’ locations. In August 2009, the British company Creativity Software in partnership with Huawei announced that it had won a contract to supply MTN Irancell a system with location tracking capabilities.