N1trn Fine: MTN May Get Reprieve On Deadline

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Fresh indications have emerged that the December 31 deadline given to MTN Nigeria to pay the $3.4 billion fine slammed on it by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), may be extended again.
The sanction relates to the refusal of the country’s largest telecoms network to deactivate 5.1 unregistered Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) on its network between August and September.

The company which was initially fined $5.2 billion has had its initial deadline of November 17 deadline extended indefinitely by the telecoms regulator pending the conclusion of negotiations.

The regulator subsequently slashed the fine by 25 per cent, bringing the current fine payable to $3.4 billion with a new deadline of December 31 to make the payment.
Findings at the weekend, however, revealed that public expectations that the erring telecoms firm would pay the money on Thursday this week, when the new deadline expires, may be dashed.

This followed the decision of the telecoms company to seek judicial determination in the case.

Already, the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, has indicated that the court would have to determine the rest of the case going forward as the case is currently under subjudice.

MTN Nigeria had on Friday, December 18, said it had instructed its lawyers to proceed with an action in the High Court in Lagos to challenge the large fine imposed by the NCC.

MTN said the company had “thoroughly and carefully considered” the matter, including a review of the circumstances leading to the fine and letters received from the NCC, and had “resolved that the manner of the imposition of the fine and the quantum thereof is not in accordance with the NCC’s powers”.

Noting certain limitations on action in line with the lis pendens rule (pending legal action), MTN added that it would continue to engage with the Nigerian authorities to try to reach an amicable resolution that was in the best interests of all parties.

Meanwhile, Shittu, who spoke on the sideline of a visit to Omatek Ventures, as part of his official visit to stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, said that “nobody wants the downfall of MTN or any other company whether local or international in the country.”

Shittu said no operator has been specifically targeted but that it was onus on service providers to understand and obey rules and regulations that governs their operations in the country.

Speaking in the wake of the court action by MTN, the minister had remarked that while MTN has the right to seek the court’s interpretation if it feels unsatisfied with the action of the regulator, “nothing would stop the government action on the fine”, saying, “Nigeria won’t consider an extension to the deadline.”

Efforts made to get the company to speak yesterday proved abortive as calls made to its officials were not successful.

However, one of the sources in the Corporate Affairs Department of the firm, said “The issue has become a court matter and it is difficult to comment on this sensitive case and I will advise you wait till the Thursday December 31 to see what will happen or until the court determines the case.”
Sources at NCC also were uncertain on what would likely happen this week.

While some officials, who spoke on anonymity on phone with New Telegraph yesterday, believe the December 31 remains unchanged, others cited the court action already initiated by MTN Nigeria as likely reason that might render the December 31 ineffective.

Also, the President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who was also careful in commenting on the matter, said: “The case will be determined by the court, so let’s just leave it at that to avoid making comments that are prejudicial or could lead to contempt of court.”

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