February 21, 2019 / 8:11 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-South Africa's MTN says chief of Iranian associate to retire

(Adds detail, context)

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 21 (Reuters) - South African telecoms group MTN said the head of its Iranian associate MTN Irancell is to retire, to be replaced by an academic with expertise in the sector.

MTN said Alireza Ghalambor Dezfouli, who had headed MTN Irancell since its 2005 inception, had been integral in building Irancell into the country’s largest data operator with more than 40 million customers.

He will be replaced by university professor Bijan Abbasi Arand.

Iran is one of MTN’s largest markets, but its entry into the country has been marred by allegations it used bribes to win a 15 year operating licence, estimated to be worth more than $30 billion, in competition with Turkish rival Turkcell.

Abbasi’s appointment comes a week after South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran was arrested on charges he helped MTN acquire the licence in return for 1.4 million rand ($100,352) which he used to purchase property.

MTN denies the allegations. It faces a $4.2 billion lawsuit brought by Turkcell in South Africa over the matter.

“MTN Group thanks Mr. Dezfouli for his years of service and congratulates Dr Abbasi on his new role,” the company said in a statement. ($1 = 13.9509 rand) (Reporting by Emma Rumney Editing by Joe Brock and David Holmes)

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