Nigeria Says $5.2 Billion MTN Fine Stays as Deadline Passes

  • Regulator considering MTN's appeal for leniency over fine
  • MTN shares fall to 3 1/2 year low before regaining some losses

Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator said a $5.2 billion fine imposed on MTN Group Ltd. for failing to disconnect millions of unregistered mobile-phone customers remains in place as it considers the phone company’s call for leniency.

MTN has won more time to negotiate the penalty, which was due to be paid on Nov. 16, the Johannesburg-based company said on Monday. While MTN has said it broke the rules and appealed, the fine remains in place, Nigerian Communications Commission spokesman Tony Ojobo said by e-mail later that day.

MTN shares fell as much as 8.7 percent to a 3-1/2 year low of 132.01 rand in Johannesburg on Tuesday, and traded 0.4 percent lower as of 11:35 a.m. local time. The stock has lost about a quarter of its value since the fine was made public on Oct. 26, valuing the company at 266 billion rand ($18.6 billion).

The government says it wants all SIM cards registered to track down felons who use mobile phones to carry out their crimes. The West African nation is facing an Islamist insurgency in the northeast, kidnappings for ransom and the theft of oil against the backdrop of falling government revenue from lower crude prices.

Public Interest

The fine was imposed “in the interest of the public, which has been at the receiving end of security challenges,” Ojobo said. “The fine remains but the appeal and other engagements with MTN may affect the payment deadline.”

Nigerian mobile phone operators MTN, Bharti Airtel Ltd., Globacom Ltd. and Emirates Telecommunications Corp., or Etisalat, all failed to meet a deadline to deactivate unregistered users in August, Ojobo said. Following that audit, Airtel was fined 3.8 million naira ($19,136), Etisalat 7 million naira and Globacom 7.4 million naira, he said. After further discussions, MTN was the only company left that "showed no sign of compliance at all," according to Ojobo.

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