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S.Africa voted with Iran to get contract: gov't admits it opposed sanctions for cellphone deal.

A member of the South African cabinet has acknowledged publicly that the South African government voted with Iran at the IAEA in 2005 in an effort to help a South African cellphone firm win an Iranian contract.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane admitted the South African ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was instructed by the government to vote with Iran to help cellphone giant MTN.

The admission was made in a response to a written parliamentary question from the opposition. It was a startling acknowledgement of framing international policy to benefit a private firm.

Only South Africa's government voted with Iran in the 2005 vote in the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors. A series of votes eventually sent to the UN Security Council the issue of Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Soon after the vote, Iran awarded the cellphone contract to MTN.

According to documents recently submitted as part of a court case in Washington, DC, the vote and the contract were linked by Iran. But South African officials had denied that until now.

Between September 2005 and February 2006, South Africa's representative at the IAEA, Abdul Minty, did a dramatic about-face on the issue of Iran. While South Africa had formerly voted to curb Iran's nuclear program, in September and November 2005 and in February 2006, Minty broke ranks with the international community, first voting against sanctions, then abstaining from a vote to refer the Iranian nuclear matter to the UN Security Council.


Later in 2006, after the MTN license was signed and sealed, South Africa reversed course again, supporting curbs on Iran's nuclear program.


But it was not a decision by Minty, according to Nkoana-Mashabane in Parliament last week. "South African officials representing the country at meetings of international organizations receive instructions as to how they should vote on specific issues," she said in her reply.

"[They] cannot make such decisions on their own without prior consultation with [the ministry]."

As the sequence of events is narrated in the Washington court filings, Minty was originally approached to discuss the UN issue on a visit to Iran in 2004, when he met MTN executives in an exchange organized by South Africa's ambassador to Iran, Yusuf Saloojee.

In a subsequent IAEA resolution in August 2004, South Africa continued to vote critically of the Iranian program. It was only after an informal meeting between Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, and then President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, brokered by Saloojee, that Minty, according to Nkoana-Mashabane, was instructed to change his vote.

Three days after a November 2005 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, where South Africa sided with Iran, MTN was awarded the contract. That contract was finally ratified in February 2006, after South Africa abstained from a crucial vote to refer the issue to the UN Security Council.

In the question to Nkoana-Mashabane, the opposition asked if the ministry was investigating bribery and trading in influence linked to Minty. The minister indicated no such investigations were in progress. But circumstances were different in relation to Saloojee, suspended pending investigations into an alleged pay-off.

The minister did not say what official instructed Minty on his vote. Nkoana-Mashabane was not foreign minister at that time.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Aug 31, 2012
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