Four individuals who claim to have been among the initial founders and investors in Afghanistan’s first cell phone company have initiated a $400 million lawsuit in London against noted Afghan businessman and philanthropist Ehsan Bayat and two companies of which Bayat is CEO. British financier Mark Warner, a long-time advisor to Bayat is also named in the suit.
The companies, Afghan Wireless Communications Company (AWCC) and Telephone Systems International, Inc. (TSI) of Ft. Lee, New Jersey, together form the backbone of Afghan Wireless, one of the largest cell phone providers in Afghanistan, with approximately 3 million subscribers. Bayat, acknowledged to be one of the wealthiest and influential businessmen in Afghanistan, is reportedly considering a run for president in Afghanistan’s national elections this August. His other ventures in Afghanistan include the Ariana Television and Radio Networks, Afghanistan International Bank, and additional Afghan financial, construction and real estate concerns. Bayat and his family are known for their philanthropic activities via the Bayat Foundation, which has contributed to numerous Afghan education, health, and cultural initiatives.
The Afghan Ministry of Communications owns between 10-20% of AWCC and Ariana TV and purportedly shares in the profits of both.
The claimants are Britishers Lord Michael Cecil, Mr. Stuart Bentham, and Mr. Alexander Grinling, along with Mr. Joakim Lehmkuhl, of Switzerland, who say they contributed substantial investment and planning services, cash, business expertise, and management services to AWCC and TSI in exchange for a 49% stake in the businesses. They claim their partnership began in 1998, and included multiple written and verbal agreements to establish mobile phone and other communications services in Afghanistan. Several agreements regarding these services were made with the Taliban, who dominated Afghanistan during that period.
In early 2002, after the dispersion of the Taliban, Bayat allegedly re-negotiated new licenses with the new government and routed all telecom services and income from the rapidly growing communications companies to different accounts and service providers, effectively denying ownership benefits and income to the claimants.
According to legal documents from a UK-based law firm, and obtained by Kabulpress, a detailed complaint was filed in the London High Court accusing Bayat, AWCC, TSI and Warner of fraud, conspiracy, deceit and breach of trust. Additional documents have been filed under oath with the US Federal Communications Commission, stating that at least two of the claimants have shares in the New Jersey company, according to the law firm.
Kabulpress will present additional documents and information on this suit, the history of Afghan Wireless and its spinoffs, and Bayat’s related activities and business ventures as a notable Afghan in coming articles.