FG asks MTN to pay $2bn tax arrears

The Federal Government has asked MTN Nigeria to pay taxes of $2bn (N700bn), six days after the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered it to repatriate $8.13 billion ‘illegally taken out of the country’.

The telecom company said in a brief statement that the Attorney General’s office gave “notice of an intention to recover the $2 billion from MTN Nigeria.”

But an MTN’s spokesperson Funsho Aina denied any wrongdoing, saying  that the company has fully paid all its taxes and was not owing the country any dime in tax.

“Based on the detailed review performed, MTN Nigeria believes it has fully settled all amounts owing under the taxes in question,” Aina said in the statement.

Daily Trust reports that six days ago, the CBN ordered MTN to bring back to Nigeria $8.13 billion ‘illegally repatriated’ to South Africa.

The apex bank also fined  four banks – Diamond Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Citi Bank and Standard Chartered Bank – involved in the transfer N5.78bn.

Daily Trust reports that the news of the tax issue sent MTN shares tumbling by as much as 7.5 percent to an almost 10-year low.

It was also the latest challenge to hit MTN since it began operations in Nigeria in 2001.

MTN was fined $5.2 billion in October 2015 by the Nigerian Communications Commission [NCC] for failing to disconnect millions of unregistered SIM cards on its network.

The fine was later reduced to $1.7 billion [N330bn] after a series of negotiations with the Nigerian government.

The company has paid N165bn, half of the fine, as at March, 2018, according to the NCC.

The NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman Prof Umar Garuba Danbatta said, “I am happy to inform you that our agreement with MTN on how and when to pay the fine has been adhered to. Just last month, March, we received a cheque of N55bn from MTN as part of the fine payment plan. This brings the total fine paid by MTN Nigeria to N165bn, that is, more than half of the fine has been paid so far.

“We call it amicable settlement agreement on which basis they will be paying N330bn over a period of three years.’’

He said by the terms of the agreement, the money would be made in six tranches over the three year period.

Daily Trust reports that the breakdown for the payment according to the agreement made in 2016 was that N30bn would be paid into NCC’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over 30 days from June 10, 2016.

Other dates and amounts of the agreement were: March 31, 2017 (N30bn), March 31, 2018 (N55bn), December 31, 2018 (N55bn), March 31, 2019 (N55bn) and May 31, 2019 (N55bn).

MTN Nigeria was originally fined $5.2bn for failing to deactivate more than five million unregistered SIM cards, but the fine was reduced in a settlement that paved the way for MTN to list its subsidiary on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

MTN, which operates in 20 countries, had set aside $600m to pay the fine. Two months after making the first payment from the fine, MTN Group in 2016 declared its first full-year loss, blaming it on the fine.

Negotiations on the payment of the fine lasted eight months, which saw both parties going in and out of courts.

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