While President Obama has been unable to stop Iran from developing nuclear reactors, one of his closest aides was able to be paid $100,000 by a company with deep financial ties to Iran.
White House senior adviser David Plouffe got the money for giving two speeches in Nigeria for Africa’s largest wireless phone operator, MTN Group, according to a Reuters report. MTN does business with Iran, according to a Reuters report.
Plouffe went to Nigeria on behalf of MTN Group and gave the speeches in December of 2010. The Obama administration claims it is getting tough with Tehran over Iran’s suspicious nuclear program that many fear is a cover for building a nuclear arsenal.
Revelations about Plouffe’s involvement and rather generous pay from a country doing business with Iran during an election year could spell trouble for Mr. Obama and his top aide.
"Today's story raises serious questions," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. "David Plouffe may be the biggest loophole in the international community's sanctions against Iran."
Plouffe listed his MTN economic alliance on official financial disclosures after he joined the White House in January 2011. MTN is a subsidiary of Irancell and a major shareholder in that Iranian government-connected telecommunications operator, according to the report.
According to Reuters, White House spokesman Eric Schultz defended Plouffe, saying, "At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host's holding company. Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced."
While MTN denies violating any sanctions related to Iran, the company's website claims it has nearly 35 million subscribers.
MTN spokesman Paul Norman said Plouffe was invited to speak "because of his expertise and his knowledge of the U.S. political scene." Norman maintains Plouffe’s activities had no bearing on Iran, the report says.
"It had no connection or relevance to Iran, and nor did Iran nor Turkcell form part of any discussions held," he said in an email to Reuters.
For their part, the Turkish cell-phone company has sued MTN over allegations the South African company used bribes to get Iran’s business.
Obama has been enforcing sanctions against Iran, along with the European Union and other countries, to starve its nuclear program that Tehran claims is for peaceful purposes but world leaders say is for the development of nuclear weapons.