MTN Still in Regulator Talks About $5.2 Billion Nigeria Fine

  • Stock resumes trading in Johannesburg after 3-hour stoppage
  • Phone company has lost abouth fifth of its value since penalty

MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless operator, said it remains in negotiations with Nigerian regulators over a $5.2 billion fine for failing to comply with an order to disconnect customers with unregistered phone cards.

MTN has until Nov. 16 to pay the fine, which relates to the timing of the disconnection of 5.1 million subscribers and is based on a charge of 200,000 naira ($1,013) for each unregistered customer.

“Any material developments in these engagements will be communicated to shareholders,” the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement on Monday, adding that investors should exercise caution before reacting to information.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange allowed trading to resume in MTN’s stock after a three-hour stoppage earlier on Monday. The shares had dropped as much as 9.7 percent following a report by CAJ News in Nigeria that MTN had failed to convince the Nigerian Communications Commission to lower its penalty. They traded 6.1 percent lower at 148.17 rand at the close in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 273 billion rand ($20 billion).

Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market with 62 million customers as of September. The stock has declined more than a fifth since news of the penalty was reported a week ago, and is trading at about three-year lows.

“I don’t have an update,” Tony Ojobo, a spokesman for the Nigerian Communications Commission, said by phone from the capital, Abuja.

While senior MTN officials and the NCC have been in discussions, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa have not engaged in talks, according to their spokesmen.

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