CBN, MTN near deal over $8.1bn fund transfer

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CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele

MTN Group Limited is close to securing a deal with the Central Bank of Nigeria over an order to repay $8.1bn it is alleged to have illegally taken out of the country, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Bloomberg reported that a settlement might be sealed by Monday and could come as early as Friday, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorised to comment publicly.

The CBN is set to meet four lenders of MTN Nigeria to discuss a dispute over an $8.1bn fund transfer, a banking source told Reuters.

It was gathered that the CBN emailed invitations on Thursday to the Nigeria Heads of Standard Chartered, Citibank, Stanbic IBTC Bank and Diamond Bank, to attend a meeting on Friday, the source added.

The central bank and the banks declined to comment on a potential meeting on Friday while a spokeswoman for MTN said she did not know of a meeting.

The source said the meeting would start at 4 pm on Friday and focus on MTN’s fund transfer.

The CBN in late August had alleged that MTN and four of its banks – Standard Chartered Plc, Citigroup Inc., Stanbic IBTC Plc and Diamond Bank Plc – illegally repatriated $8.1bn from Nigeria while the office of the Attorney General of the Federation claimed the company failed to remit $2bn back taxes.

The CBN also imposed a total fine of N5.87bn on the four banks for allegedly remitting dividends with irregular Certificates of Capital Importation on behalf of MTN Nigeria between 2007 and 2015.

Meanwhile, MTN Nigeria Communication Limited has sued the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), before the Federal High Court in Lagos, demanding N3bn as general and exemplary damages.

The telecoms firm is challenging the August 20, 2018 letter written to it by the AGF, demanding N242bn and $1.3bn as import duties, withholding and value added taxes.

The firm, in the suit filed through its lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), described the AGF’s  N242bn and $1.3bn demand from it as “malicious, unreasonable and one made on an incorrect legal basis.”

MTN contended that in writing the demand letter to it, the AGF acted beyond his powers and violated the provisions of Section 36 of the constitution on fair hearing with “the purported revenue assets investigation” he carried out on the firm’s activities covering 2007 to 2017.

MTN, through Olanipekun, is urging the court to declare that the AGF acted illegally by “usurping the powers of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, to audit and demand remittance of withholding tax and value-added tax.”

The firm also wants the court to declare that with the “self-assessment exercise,” the AGF usurped the powers of the Nigerian Customs Service to demand payment of import duties on the importation of goods.

It wants the court to declare that “the purported self-assessment” conducted by the AGF was “unknown to the law, null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.

But the AGF has filed a preliminary objection, urging the court to dismiss MTN’s suit.

The AGF, through his lawyer, Mr T.A. Gazali, argued that MTN’s suit was incompetent, having not been filed within three months of the complaint.

Gazali argued that MTN’s suit breached the provisions of Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act, “which provides that any action commenced against a public officer must be made within three months from the commencement of a cause of action.”

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