• Payment deadline for $3.9 billion penalty set for Dec. 31
  • Nigerian regulator says will challenge MTN dispute in court

Nigeria’s communications regulator said MTN Group Ltd. must stick to a Dec. 31 deadline to pay a record $3.9 billion fine, even after Africa’s largest phone company prepares to try and overturn the penalty in court.

“The deadline remains,” Tony Ojobo, a spokesman for the Nigerian Communications Commission, said by phone on Wednesday. The NCC will consult with lawyers about what to do if the Johannesburg-based company doesn’t pay the fine on Thursday, he said, without providing detail on possible actions the regulator may take.

MTN is challenging the penalty in the Federal High Court in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, after it said earlier this month the NCC didn’t have the power to impose the fine. The regulator took action after MTN failed to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers as security agencies seek to fight crime and Islamist militants in a country with poor identity records.

The regulator “will allow” the courts to do their work and the NCC is planning to challenge the MTN dispute filed in Lagos, Ojobo said.

MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng declined to comment beyond a Dec. 17 statement announcing the decision to go to court. The company’s shares have declined 27 percent since the fine was made public on Oct. 26, valuing the wireless operator at 256 billion rand ($16.5 billion).

While MTN Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko has been leading negotiations with the Nigerian authorities after Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Dabengwa resigned, Ojobo said he wasn’t aware of any talks currently being held between MTN and the West African nation’s regulator and government.

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