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Nigerian lawmakers to quiz MTN, trade minister over alleged illegal transfer of $14bn

Mobile operator’s shares fall on news of hearing.

LAGOS – A committee of Nigerian lawmakers has invited South Africa’s MTN, Nigeria’s trade minister and four lenders to appear before them on October 20 for an “investigate hearing” on an allegation that MTN illegally moved $14 billion out of the country.

The upper house of Nigeria’s parliament last month agreed to investigate whether Africa’s biggest telecoms company MTN wrongly transferred the money out of Nigeria between 2006 and 2016.

The allegations first appeared in a motion proposed by Senator Dino Melaye to launch an investigation and come as Nigeria struggles with its first recession in a generation and chronic foreign currency shortages due to a slump in oil prices.

MTN and Nigeria’s Trade Minister Okechukwu Elenemah have denied any wrongdoing.

The four lenders invited to appear before the senate committee on banking, insurance and other financial institutions were Stanbic IBTC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank and Diamond Bank, the committee’s chairman, Rafiu Adebayo Ibrahim, said in a statement on Thursday.

Citi and Diamond Bank declined to comment. A spokesman for Stanbic was unavailable and Standard Chartered said it would cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies.

Shares in MTN extended losses on Thursday, falling 3.08% to R110, partly on news of the hearing.

The Senate move is likely to raise tensions between Nigeria and MTN just months after the Johannesburg-based firm agreed to pay a greatly reduced fine of 330 billion naira ($1.1 billion) to end a long-running dispute over the size of the penalty imposed for MTN’s failure to disconnect users of unregistered SIM cards from its Nigerian network, with the total fine originally set at $5.9 billion.

MTN is the largest mobile network operator in Nigeria, which is the continent’s biggest economy and accounts for a third of MTN’s revenue. The company had threatened to pull out of the country during the SIM card row, before the fine was reduced.

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