Turkcell lawsuit unlikely to come to court before 2015: MTN

JOHANNESBURG Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:03pm EST

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

A customer leaves an MTN shop in Johannesburg April 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Turkcell's (TCELL.IS) $4.2 billion lawsuit against South African rival MTN Group (MTNJ.J) is unlikely to be heard in a Johannesburg court before early 2015, MTN's chief executive said on Friday.

"The initial indications - and again it's really purely indications - (are) it probably wouldn't get into court before early 2015," Sifiso Dabengwa told Reuters in an interview.

The Turkish mobile operator filed a suit in a Johannesburg high court this week against MTN, alleging it was the victim of corruption and bribery that caused it to lose a mobile license in Iran nearly a decade ago.

Turkcell originally pursued the case against Johannesburg-based MTN in the United States but dropped it in May after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a separate case made clear that U.S. courts would not have jurisdiction in a claim involving two foreign firms in an overseas dispute.

Dabengwa said the latest lawsuit was "substantially the same" as the one in the United States last year, adding MTN had not expected Turkcell to try and sue again.

Turkcell accuses Africa's largest mobile operator of "corrupt acts" - including promises of bribes and the giving of gifts to Iranian and South African government officials - to secure the license.

It also alleges that MTN promised to influence the South African government's vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear program in 2005 and 2006.

MTN has said the case has no legal merit. It has previously rejected the allegations and appointed a retired British judge to lead an investigation that dismissed the accusations as "a fabric of lies, distortions and inventions".

The company has not set aside any money for legal costs. Dabengwa said it would be able to claim for costs in a South African court if it wins the case, unlike in U.S. courts.

Dabengwa said the deal last week between the West and Iran was likely a positive for MTN's attempt to bring home around $450 million it has locked in the country due to sanctions.

"The issue of repatriating funds, we have been discussing with all the relevant authorities in the U.S., so that process was going ahead, although rather slowly," he said.

"We think that the agreement of last weekend is probably positive for repatriation discussions."

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Mark Potter)

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