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Adebayo
Shittu. Picture taken by REUTERS/PAUL CARSTEN
during the interview
The minister of communications of the Federal republic of
Nigeria, Adebayo Shittu said, Nigeria
must not scare away MTN,
as legislators investigates investigate claims of
illegal money transfers three months after the Africa’s biggest telecoms group
was fined more than $1bn.
The comments made by the minister are the government’s first
statement on the newest MTN investigation, signifying that the government does
not want to see the South
African group penalised unduly in Nigeria, its
biggest market if the latest allegations prove true.
Shittu said on Friday that “Nobody will say that MTN is
not important to Nigeria — we must encourage them, we must not scare them away
from Nigeria.”
MTN, which is unarguably the largest mobile phone group in
Nigeria, threatened to pull out of the Nigeria last year over the issue of unregistered
SIM cards before the government settled to reduce a fine on the issue by almost
70% to $1bn.
MTN Logo
The company is currently facing another hefty penalty if an
investigation by Nigeria’s upper house of parliament finds MTN Group guilty on illegally
transferred of $13.9bn from Nigeria starting from 2006 to 2016.
MTN responded by saying it did not break Nigeria’s currency
transfer rules.
Shittu also said “The presumption is that they are
innocent, and we pray they remain innocent, and they must stay.”
Shittu’s remarks looks like those he made when MTN was firstly
fined $5.2bn in 2015 (equivalent to more than two years of its Nigerian profits)
for failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards. The fine was reduced last
June to 330-billion naira ($1.1bn).
Nigeria can accounts for a third of MTN’s revenue. The root
of the allegation of illegal money
transfers
is that MTN did not obtain certificates declaring it had invested
foreign currency in Nigeria within a 24-hour deadline stipulated in a 1995 law,
and so the transfer of such returns on those investments was illegal.
“They have a right to repatriate their profits as long
as it is legitimately done,” Shittu said. At any time MTN is suspected of
breaking the law, it would be investigated, but allegations “against them
must be established beyond reasonable doubt. Everyone who is in business will
have ups and downs. You don’t throw away
the baby with the bathwater.
Shittu said the investigation was an issue for financial
regulators and did not fall within his “constitutional
responsibility”. The government, however, can influence the size of the
penalty, as with the SIM card issue.

Shittu also said Nigeria is currently planning of building
and launching two new satellites using a $550m loan from the Export-Import Bank
of China, which would shelter 85% of the cost. Nigeria would finance the other
15%. Shittu encouraged domestic and foreign investors to take part in funding.

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