S.Africa's MTN hit by slide in Iran rial

* Investors worried about rial impact on profit

* Iran currency down a third in 2 weeks

* MTN shares down nearly 5 pct this month

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The impact of Iran'scurrency slide has reached beyond its borders, hitting shares ofMTN Group , the South African mobile operator thatderives nearly a tenth of its revenue from the Middle Easterncountry.

MTN, which has been unable to repatriate profits from itsIrancell unit because of Western sanctions on Iran, flagged inAugust that further rial weakness would deflate its second-halfearnings.

Its shares were down 3.7 percent at 152.06 rand in afternoontrade in Johannesburg, bringing its losses this month to nearly5 percent.

The rial has lost about a third of its value against theU.S. dollar in the last two weeks as U.S.-led sanctions cut thecountry's ability to earn hard currency from oil exports.

MTN operates in 21 countries across Africa and the MiddleEast, including a 49 percent stake in Irancell.

"It's just that there will be foreign exchange losses thatwill be included in the earnings number for the year, that's themain concern," said one Johannesburg-based portfolio manager,who declined to be identified.

The rial has collapsed two-thirds in little more than oneyear in the open market but the government's official rate hasremained the same since January.

"The unofficial rate trades well below the official rate.The fear is always that if the official rate drops to the blackmarket rate, then MTN will take a knock in their report," saidone analyst, who also did not want to be named.

MTN said in August it was in talks with South African andU.S. officials about moving money out of the country. Thecompany's chief executive said at the time it had been unable totake cash out of the business for at least six months.

MTN is being sued by rival Turkcell for $4.2billion in a U.S. court, saying it used bribery and lobbiedSouth Africa to support Tehran's military in return for a 2005cellular licence in Iran that was originally awarded to theTurkish firm.

MTN has denied the charges.

(Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by David Dolan)

((helen.nyambura@thomsonreuters.com)(+27 11 775 3034)(ReutersMessaging: helen.nyambura.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: S.AFRICA MTN/