MTN Group Ltd in South Africa is making some moves to get the $5.2 billion fine imposed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) reduced by as much as 80 per cent and it is considering borrowing money from banks to help settle the penalty, should its request for fine reduction sail through.
Bloomberg reported that the head of research of Renaissance Capital (RenCap) in Nigeria, Mr. Adesoji Solanke, shared a note with clients on Wednesday, where he said: “MTN is pushing to reduce the fine by 60 per cent to 80 per cent.”
According to Bloomberg, a second lender said: “MTN is considering borrowing from banks, as it recently checked what the banks’ lending capacity to it is."
It however quoted MTN's Group spokesman, Chris Maroleng, as saying: “We don’t comment on banking matters, and banking regulators in Nigeria are best placed to provide context on these matters.”
It also quoted the Director of Public Affairs of NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, as saying: “I don’t have that information.”
MTN has until November 16, 2015, to pay the penalty, which relates to the timing of the disconnection of 5.1 million subscribers and is based on a charge of N200,000 for each unregistered customer.
Should the telecom giant’s request be granted, the fine may be reduced by as much as $4.16 billion, which represents 80 per cent of the fine. That will leave a balance of $1.04 billion.
Meanwhile, the NCC has confirmed that it had received an apology letter from MTN, asking for leniency over the fine. NCC said it was not in doubt whether MTN would pay the fine, since it has to do with the law, which MTN was part of the signatories.
NCC however said that having received the apology letter, it would proceed to discuss it with the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, where a decision on the matter would be taken.
"We have received the apology letter from MTN, but it is not in our position to take decision on it, since the matter is being handled by the Presidency," a source from NCC .
In a related development, the South African lawmakers are planning to summon MTN Group Ltd. officials to explain why MTN Nigeria was fined $5.2 billion by Nigeria’s telecoms industry regulator for failing to disconnect customers with unregistered SIM cards.
According to Bloomberg, the Chairwoman of South African Parliament’s telecommunications committee, Nkhensani Kubayi, said on phone from Cape Town yesterday that "the fine is a worrying issue" that demands explanation from MTN Group.
The panel also intends summoning the South African industry regulator to determine whether MTN is compliant with local rules, with hearings likely to take place next year, she said, according to Bloomberg.
Nigeria is Johannesburg-based MTN’s biggest market with 62 million clients as of September this year.
MTN is being advised by some unidentified banks as the company pleads its case with the regulator, according to Solanke. A decision to borrow would be one of financial management rather than an indication of stress, he said
However, MTN shares gained as much as 4.1 per cent and traded 3.5 per cent higher at 160.89 rand yesterday in Johannesburg. The stock is down 27 per cent this year, valuing the company at 297 billion rand ($21.5 billion).