Last update: February 17, 2019 22:10

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Samsung Gets Caught Up In Iran, N. Korea Sanctions Snafu As Olympics Open

By Orkhan Jalilov February 10, 2018


Several members of the Iranian winter Olympic team in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. /

Iran has summoned South Korea’s ambassador to the foreign ministry in Tehran over a decision to exclude Iranian athletes from receiving Samsung smartphones that are being given out to Olympic athletes, over concerns that such a move may violate UN sanctions concerning luxury goods that could be used for military purposes.

The South Korean electronics giant has provided some 4,000 units of a special “Olympic edition” Galaxy Note 8 smartphones, which have a retail value of $1,100, to the athletes and International Olympic Committee officials visiting Pyeongchang for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. There are 22 North Korean and four Iranian athletes at the games.

South Korean Ambassador Kim Seung-ho was summoned, to express strong protest over the decision on February 7.

Seung-ho said, “according to the remarks made by government officials and Samsung managers, they, as the sponsor for Winter Olympic Games, had no part in the misunderstanding about the distribution of these products,” according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

On February 8, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Bahram Ghasemi described the move as “unethical” and “contrary to the spirit of Olympic Games,” stressing that “the South Korean ambassador was informed that if Samsung does not apologize for this unwise move, this issue will severely affect the company’s trade ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Mohammad Shariatmadari also joined the campaign to boycott Samsung in response to the incident, saying that they “will not use the brand's smartphones either, unless the company officially apologizes.”

According to Iran’s Alef news website, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi will propose a ban on the import of Samsung mobile phones if the South Korean company does not apologize.

Samsung has at least 18 million users in Iran, according to the report of Iran’s largest Android app market, Café Bazaar released in January 2018. The company which has 35 million users, indicates that 83 percent of its users have Samsung or Huawei handsets.

Meanwhile, following the situation's escalation, the International Olympic Committee later reversed the decision, saying athletes from both countries would receive the smartphone, the South Korean Yonhap News agency reported on Friday.

“The International Olympic Committee decided to allow Galaxy Note 8 smartphones for the four Iranian athletes without the condition of handing them back", an official from the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games said, adding that but those from North Korea were, “requested not to take the phones back to their home country”. 

This week’s incident was not the first time Iran had tried to boycott the South Korean company.

In 2012, a commercial in Israel featuring Mossad agents disguised as Iranian veiled women who blow up an Iranian nuclear plant using a Samsung tablet raised a concern among Iranian officials. The advertisement prompted senior Iranian lawmakers to call for a boycott of Samsung, which followed with a statement saying the company had nothing to do with the commercial.

In 2013, Samsung got mired in another controversy when Iranian users of mobile applications said the company had notified them they would no longer have access to the company’s online store. Owners of mobile phones and tablets said they had received messages via e-mail from the company which said it could not provide access to Samsung Apps in Iran because of “legal barriers.”