As the American Presidential elections entered its most heated phase, a senior White House adviser, who managed Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, was found to have accepted a USD 100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran.
David Plouffe was paid for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff, by a subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, The Washington Post reported.
MTN Group is now being scrutinised by US authorities because of its activities in Iran and Syria, which are under international sanctions intended to limit the countries' access to sensitive technology, The Post reported.
At the time of Plouffe's speeches, MTN had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.
There were no legal or ethical restrictions on Plouffe being paid to speak to the MTN subsidiary as a private citizen. But for a close Obama aide to have accepted payment from a company involved in Iran could prove troublesome for the president as the White House toughens its stance toward the Islamic republic. In recent weeks, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has accused the administration of being soft on Iran, the paper said.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said on Sunday that criticising Plouffe would be unfair because MTN Group's role in Iran was not a high-profile issue when he was invited to speak to the affiliate.
"He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company's leadership," Schultz said in a statement to the Washington Post.
"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 Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced," the statement said.
White House officials said it is not unusual for Washington figures to receive similar fees for speeches. They note that senior Bush administration officials were also paid for speeches by companies doing business in Iran.