Nigerian Lawmakers Say Regulator Free to Revive MTN Fine Talks

Nigeria’s House of Representatives said the country’s telecommunications regulator can restart talks with wireless operator MTN Group Ltd. regarding a $3.9 billion fine even as lawmakers continue an investigation into the penalty.

The Nigerian Communications Commission fined Johannesburg-based MTN in October, and therefore it should lead the negotiations, Saheed Fijabi, chairman of the House of Representatives’ communications committee, said by phone. The lawmakers will complete their probe and release something “very soon,” he said. The NCC is reluctant to revive talks without knowing the outcome of the probe, the regulator said on Thursday.

“At the discretion of the President, if they feel they want to negotiate, they should continue negotiating,” Fijabi said, referring to the NCC. “We will continue with our own investigation. We don’t want to rush into any conclusion for now because of the sensitivity of the case.

The NCC held talks last year with MTN and its lawyer, the former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, and agreed to reduce the fine to $3.9 billion from $5.2 billion. The phone company then made a down payment of 50 billion naira ($252 million) in February to continue the talks, though little further progress has been reported since then. Negotiations are on hold while the House of Representatives works on its investigation, a spokesman for the Ministry of Communications said last week.

“MTN continues to engage with the Nigerian authorities,” spokesman Chris Maroleng said in e-mailed comments. “We have put our position forward, and this is now subject to internal discussions by authorities in that country. MTN remains optimistic on reaching an amicable conclusion on this matter, in the short term.”

The regulator is waiting for “official communication” from the House of Representatives regarding the outcome of the investigation before it can reopen talks, NCC spokesman Tony Ojobo said by phone. “We wouldn’t want to go ahead and conclude and then their report is saying something totally different.”

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