MTN asks Nigeria to spread payment of N1trn fine

Phuthuma Nhleko, new chief executive of MTN
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South Africa’s mobile phone giant MTN has asked Nigeria for a plan to allow it to spread the payment of a $5.2 billion (N1.04trillion) fine just days before the Monday deadline, a source at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) told Reuters.

The source added that the government was considering the request, made at a meeting on Friday between MTN and high-level government officials, and that the decision would be disclosed on Monday.

The NCC slapped the fine on MTN last month for its failure to cut off 5.2 million unregistered SIM cards.

MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng said: “We are waiting for authorities to come back to us”.

Nigeria has been pushing telecommunication operators to verify the identity of subscribers due to concerns that unregistered SIM cards are being used for criminal activity or even by Boko Haram militants waging an Islamist insurgency in the northeast.

“At the meeting, MTN pleaded passionately for staggered payment since the option of reduction of the fine had been ruled out,” the NCC source said.

However, a source familiar with the discussions said that an eleventh hour reduction of the fine could still be possible.

“Until the final announcement is made, there may be some room for manoeuvre,” the source familiar with the situation said.

Spokesmen for Nigeria’s presidency and communications ministry declined to comment.

The fine – if fully enforced – amounts to more than the past two years’ profit for MTN in its biggest market. The new communications minister, Adebayo Shittu, told Reuters on Friday the government did not want MTN “to die” or shut down operations as a result of the penalty.

The fine is based on $1,000 per outstanding unregistered SIM card, as stipulated by Nigerian telecommunications laws.

Nigeria accounts for 37 per cent of revenues for MTN, which operates in more than 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Since the announcement of the fine, its shares have lost nearly 25 percent of their value.

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