The lingering face-off between the Senate and the executive arm of the government may soon degenerate again over alleged moves to reduce the fine imposed on MTN from $8.1bn to $800m.
Some senators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent on Tuesday, that the executive, in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria, had allegedly perfected arrangements to reduce the fine through “the back door.”
The senators accused the executive of taking a unilateral action without recourse to the upper chamber, which had earlier investigated the alleged scam and exonerated the telecommunications giant.
The Senate had, on November 8, 2017, adopted the report of its Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, which probed the alleged illegal repatriation of $13.9bn by MTN.
The red chamber, in its resolution, unanimously exonerated the telecoms firm and accused the CBN of laxity, which, the lawmakers claimed, led to sharp practices by the commercial banks that aided such huge repatriation.
The CBN had alleged in August 2016 that MTN and four banks – Standard Chartered Plc, Citigroup Inc, Stanbic IBTC Plc, and Diamond Bank illegally repatriated the money from Nigeria and that the company should return $8.1bn.
The apex bank also imposed a fine of $16m on the four banks.
Reacting to the decision by the executive to slash the fine on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Senate panel that investigated the alleged scam, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, said, “The CBN failed to implement the Senate resolution before conducting another investigation into the alleged infraction by MTN.”
Ibrahim said his committee would request the CBN report on the matter in order to take a definite action on the issue.
He said that the only way Nigerians would know what transpired between the CBN and MTN on the $8.1bn fine was through a detailed report.
He said, “The last time we heard about this issue was when we had a little retreat two weeks ago in Lagos, and the CBN did a presentation on their biannual activities to the Senate committee.
“We took them (CBN officials) up on the issue, and they told us that they carried out another investigation on it but we asked them to tell us how they did the investigation.
“We’re taking them up based on the fact that we have investigated everything and we saw what happened.
“Our resolution was passed to them, and they did not even implement it before they embarked on another investigation.
“They said their investigation was based on a petition from a law firm and that their position was that the penalty was correct.
“So, it will be ridiculous for the CBN to say they’re bringing the penalty down from $8.1bn to about $800m. What they told us that day was that they were going to give us the report from when they started the investigation to date and their discussion with MTN.
“So, if that’s the case, they have to answer to Nigerians through us (committee) to the Senate what informed the penalty of $8.1bn?
“We want to know the information they now have that informed the reduction to $800m. I don’t know what percentage of reduction you can call that. Is it not up to 1,000?”
Ibrahim said the clerk of his committee would soon be directed to write the CBN and probably give ultimatum to it to submit the report.
However, the MTN Group said it was making “great progress” with Nigerian authorities in talks about $10.1bn in claims, encouraging Africa’s largest wireless network provider that it could settle the long-running dispute out of court, Bloomberg reported.
The South African company is in ongoing discussions with Nigeria’s central bank and other institutions and is “narrowing down what the key issues are,” the Chief Executive Officer, Rob Shuter, said in an interview in Cape Town on Tuesday.
According to him, MTN’s strategy is twofold: seek legal action while simultaneously looking for an amicable resolution.
“We would like a resolution out of court and with normal engagements as that would be faster than a court process,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Shuter indicated that he had no intention of walking away from Nigeria.