Iran issues threat to Samsung, may punish tech firm

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Iran issues threat to Samsung, may punish tech firm

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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi uploaded a photo of a Samsung Electronics sign being taken down on his Twitter account on Feb. 14. [SEYYED ABBAS MOUSAVI'S TWITTER ACCOUNT]

An Iranian official on Tuesday warned Samsung Electronics that it is planning to restrict the use of the tech giant’s mobile phones in the country, accusing the company of bowing to pressure from the United States.

The official’s statement is a response to Samsung’s decision to limit app purchases for Iranian users of its Galaxy Store, for which it cited issues with converting Iranian currency. The policy is set to take effect beginning in late February.

But Iranian news outlets have reported the move as a response to U.S. sanctions against the country and have suggested the restriction will widen to free apps as well next month. Samsung is the dominant smartphone producer in Iran, with more than 50 percent market share.

Mohammad Jafar Na’nakar, a government official who heads the legal department at Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, delivered the warning to Samsung during an interview Tuesday with Press TV, an Iranian state-run news outlet.

“The list of measures against Samsung is ready,” Na’nakar said.

The official raised concerns that Samsung limiting Iranian users’ access to the app store would create “massive difficulties for app developers and businesses inside Iran,” Press TV reported. The country’s officials were considering working more closely with Chinese companies instead, the station reported.

Na’nakar indicated that measures may include an entry ban on Samsung employees in Iran, which could be done through the ministry’s authority to screen foreign nationals working in the country’s communications industry. He said officials are also considering “partially” restricting the registry of Samsung phones on Iran’s mobile network.

According to Samsung, the company does not have a corporation in Iran but operates a regional office that oversees sales activities. The retail and distribution are conducted by local partners.

Iran has previously warned of taking punitive measures against Samsung for actions taken under pressure from Washington.

On Friday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi tweeted a photo of a Samsung Electronics banner being removed from the street.

“In the past few years, several companies have left Iran, submitting to the banditry of the United States - they should know that returning to the Iran market will be very difficult,” read a Korean translation of the tweet, which he uploaded two days later.

The remark followed news reports in Iran last week that Samsung and LG Electronics have removed advertisement banners in the country.

Iranian outlets also reported that domestic companies affiliated with Samsung and LG have stopped getting supplies of components from Korean companies.

Both Samsung and LG have a significant presence in Iran’s home appliances market. Following rumors last April that Samsung was considering pulling out of Iran, the Korean company released a statement reassuring Iranian consumers that it was staying put.

“Samsung has a high brand value in Iran. It was one of the few foreign companies that left stores open until the end when U.S. sanctions started [in 2011], and Iranians are very well aware of this,” said Myongji University Professor Kim Jong-do, who heads the Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs.

“Behind the recent warnings underlies a sentiment of general disappointment in Korea and its recent decisions like deploying military units to the Strait of Hormuz. The discontent is as big as much as their likability to Korea and its brands.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON, LIM SUN-YOUNG [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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