MTN’s latest run-in with the federal government explained

The Federal High Court, Lagos, has dismissed the Federal Government’s request to freeze accounts belonging to the MTN Group in all 21 commercial banks within Nigeria. This comes against the allayed fear that MTN, failing to meet the December 31st deadline to pay the reduced fine of N780 billion, might transfer funds in Nigerian banks to a foreign account in order to extend payment of the hefty fine.

The Federal Government versus MTN

Round 1: The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) imposed a $5.2bn fine which was later reduced by 25 percent to $3.92bn (780 billion Naira) with a deadline of December 31st 2015 on MTN last year. MTN, argued that the NCC violated its right to a fair hearing and wants the court to determine whether or not the organisation has the legal right to fine the telecommunications company.

However, the Attorney General refuted this claim and justified the NCC’s action to impose the fine, guaranteeing that all laws made by the National Assembly are obeyed.

Round 2: In order to ensure MTN pays the fine, the NCC launched a counter case at the Federal High Court, Abuja,and this means the organisation currently has two cases in court over the fine. To effectively defend the case filed in court, MTN opted to hire seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

MTN’s history of transferring repatriated funds from Nigeria to foreign accounts prompted the federal government, under the Attorney General of the Federation and Chief Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN), to rule in an application over concerns that MTN might do just that.

Round 3: However, the application was turned by Justice Idris Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Lagos on the basis of insufficient facts to back up the allegation raised by the attorney general of the federation to prove that MTN would most likely withdraw funds from their Nigerian account.

It thus appears that MTN is trying to prolong the payment of this fine through these court hearings. However, the NCC has maintained its ground on the previous fine of N1.04 trillion as MTN failed to pay the reduced fine of N780 billion before the stipulated deadline.

Round 4: MTN seems to have won the first court battle against the federal government but the federal high court has ordered MTN and the federal government to maintain the status quo pending its final verdict and adjourned the case to January 22nd, 2016.

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