MTN vows to fight Syria curatorship order

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 01 Mar 2021

MTN is readying for yet another battle as the mobile operator seeks to overturn a court order in Syria that placed it under curatorship.

Africa’s most successful telco group announced on Friday that it is considering all its legal options to fight the ruling by a Damascus court.

With the ruling, MTN executive management was relieved of its duties and the court appointed the chairman of minority shareholder TeleInvest, to manage the company’s day-to-day operations.

MTN stands accused of mismanagement and violating its operating licence conditions by the Syria Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority; allegations denied by the mobile network operator.

“MTN Group strongly disagrees with the allegations made before the court as well as the court’s decision and intends to file an appeal. In addition, MTN is considering other appropriate steps to take in light of the ruling. MTN Group is committed to continued compliance with all applicable laws and continues to monitor all developments to ensure it acts in accordance with applicable laws,” the company says.

The latest challenge facing MTN comes at a time plans are afoot for Africa’s largest mobile operator to exit the Middle East, and focus on its burgeoning operations on the continent.

In August last year, MTN resolved to sell its 75% stake in MTN Syria.

The region is not a big money-spinner for the telco, bringing in under 4% of the group’s earnings of R41.8 billion for the half-year to end-June, with MTN Syria contributing 0.7%.

Besides contributing less to the group’s coffers, the Middle East operations have been problematic for MTN.

The telco is currently defending itself in a US court following fresh allegations in an amended lawsuit that MTN “was a particularly aggressive practitioner of protection payments” to terror group al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

MTN is being accused of violating US anti-terrorism laws.

In Iran, the mobile operator has repeatedly rebuffed bribery allegations following accusations by Istanbul-based Turkcell that MTN engaged in illicit activity to gain its GSM licence in Iran in 2005.

Turkcell claims MTN used bribery and corruption to overturn the initial Iranian decision so that the licence was awarded to Irancell, of which the MTN group owns 49%.