September 10, 2018 / 5:31 PM / 3 months ago

FACTBOX-South Africa's MTN faces challenges in largest market Nigeria

Sept 10 (Reuters) - Africa’s biggest telecoms company MTN has in the past few years faced a number of challenges related to the regulatory framework in Nigeria, the South African group’s largest market.

CAPITAL IMPORTATION ALLEGATIONS

* Nigeria’s central bank, in August 2018, ordered MTN and four banks to bring $8.1 billion back into the country that it said the telecoms company illegally sent abroad in breach of foreign exchange regulations.

* The financial regulator said MTN used improperly issued certificates to convert shareholders loans in its Nigerian unit to preference shares in 2007.

* The central bank said dividends paid by MTN Nigeria to the parent company between 2007 and 2015, totalling $8.1 billion, were illegal and should be returned.

* The Central Bank of Nigeria also fined the banks it alleged carried out the illegal process. The banks - Standard Chartered PLC, Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, Citibank and Diamond Bank PLC - denied any wrongdoing.

PREVIOUS PROBES

* Lawmakers in the upper house of Nigeria’s parliament agreed in 2016 to investigate whether MTN unlawfully repatriated $13.92 billion from Nigeria.

* The Senate concluded its investigation approving a report largely exonerating MTN in November 2017.

* The upper house, in its report, asked Nigeria’s central bank to sanction Stanbic IBTC “for improper documentations in respect of capital repatriation and loan repayments” on behalf of MTN.

* The attorney general’s office said a whistleblower made allegations about infractions by MTN, prompting the attorney general to order a central bank investigation.

* That probe by the financial regulator, which was not related to the Senate investigation, led to the demand for $8.1 billion to be returned to Nigeria.

TAX BILL

* Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s attorney general, imposed a $2 billion tax bill on MTN in September 2018.

* The attorney general’s statement was issued a few days after the central bank announced the need for the company to repatriate funds.

* MTN said it had been in talks with the attorney general about an investigation into tax compliance relating to the importation of foreign equipment and payments to foreign suppliers over the last 10 years.

MTN’S RESPONSE

* MTN has denied the allegations related to capital importation and tax.

* MTN said dividends were never paid on preference shares. It said the value of preference shares have not changed.

* On the tax bill, MTN said its total payment of around $700 million over the 10-year period fully settled the amount owed under the taxes in question.

* The company has applied to Nigeria’s Federal High Court for an injunction to restrain the central bank and attorney general from taking further action while it engages Nigerian authorities.

2015 FINE

* MTN’s 2018 setbacks in Nigeria came three years after the company was fined $5.2 billion by Nigeria’s telecoms regulator for failing to disconnect more than 5 million subscribers with unregistered and incomplete SIM cards.

* The west African country has in the last few years tried to halt the use of unregistered cards over fears that they are used by criminal gangs who are then difficult to trace.

* The fine was later reduced to $1.7 billion with MTN given an option to list its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by David Evans

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