South Africa may intervene in dispute between MTN and Nigerian government

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South Africa’s Telecommunications Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, told Reuters the South African government will intervene in the ongoing dispute between telecoms company MTN group and the Nigerian government, only if MTN makes the request. Cwele said “if they need our assistance, then we will engage our counterpart in Nigeria”.

During his interview on the sidelines of a telecoms conference in Durban, Cwele noted that MTN has told the South African government that it is still negotiating with the Nigerian government.

MTN Group is confident the multi billion dollar dispute will be resolved even as it applied for a court injunction to protect its Nigerian assets.

Back in August, the Central Bank ordered MTN’s Lagos based unit to pay $8.1 billion believed to be illegally sent abroad. Then in September, Nigeria’s Attorney General also handed MTN a $2 billion tax bill, a move some industry analysts see as a political bid to fight corruption and push through tougher regulation.

Rob Schuter, MTN’s Chief Executive, said Nigeria is the firm’s largest market, in which it has been operating since 2001. When interviewed at the ITU Telecom World conference in Durban, he said “we do have some challenges these past few weeks, but we believe we will be able to make our case, and I’m sure we will move past that as soon as we can”.

MTN’s recent trouble come just two years after it agreed to pay over $1 billion to settle a SIM card dispute. The company’s finances have also been hit by a weak economy and volatile oil prices.

The company has denied any wrong doing by releasing a statement that it has applied to Nigeria’s Federal High Court to restrain the Central Bank and Attorney General from taking further actions while it engages the authorities.

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