Fred Itua, Abuja
Purported plans by the Federal Government to reduce the $8.1 billion fine imposed on the communication giant, MTN, to $800 million is causing ripples in the Senate, Daily Sun has gathered.
It was learnt that the Federal Government, working through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), may have concluded plans to cut the $8.1 billion fine to $800 million through a back door.
The leadership of the Senate, yesterday, said the planned reduction of the fine is a matter of interest to it.
It noted that it was not particularly against whatever the government would want to do with the MTN fine but it, however, insisted that it should be intimated on why the reduction became necessary.
The Senate also noted that how the percentage of reduction from $8.1 billion to $800 million was arrived at was of interest to it.
The Red Chamber said it was equally interested to know what informed the penalty of $8.1 billion in the first instance.
The Senate in 2017 adopted a resolution largely exonerating MTN of alleged illegal repatriation $14 billion out of the country.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, Rafiu Ibrahim, told newsmen yesterday when he was contacted that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) failed to implement Senate resolutions passed to it before conducting another investigation into the alleged infraction by MTN.
Ibrahim said his committee would immediately demand CBN report on the matter to be better informed, adding that the only way Nigerians would know what transpired between CBN and MTN on the $8.1 billion fine was through a detailed report.
Ibrahim said: “The last time we heard about this issue was when we had a little retreat last two weeks in Lagos, where CBN did the presentation of their biannual activities to the Senate Committee.
“We took them up on the issue, and CBN told us how they did the investigation. We’re taking them up based on the fact that we have investigated and we saw what happened.
“All our resolutions were passed to them, and they did not even implement the resolutions before saying they’re going into another investigation. They said their investigation was based on a petition from a law firm and their stand was that the penalty was correct.
“So, from the information you have now, it will be ridiculous for them to say they’re bringing the penalty down from $8.1 billion to about $800 million. That will be ridiculous for CBN.
“What they told us that day was that they were going to give us the report from when they started the investigation to date and their discussion with MTN. So, if that’s the case, they have to answer to Nigerians through us in the Senate Committee to the legislature, what informed the penalty of $8.1 billion?”
“And what information have they now gathered that informed the reduction to $800m. I don’t know what percentage of reduction you can call that. Is it not up to 1000?
“So, we will be interested to know that. We’re not against whatever they’re doing, but they will have to explain to Nigerians. Did they take the decision they took against MTN in a hurry, a foreign direct investor like MTN? We took into consideration the role of MTN in the economy.
“That’s why we did a very thorough job, and we believe we did a thorough job, that they did not steal any money then, that was our own assertion, though they repatriated.
“By then, CBN said all the places where some infractions to the law or guidelines where they gave them waivers. That was our position. So, we will be interested in the investigation.
“We want to know what informed this decision. We as a committee and as a Senate will be interested.
“They will have to explain. As I sit here, I believe it may not be true. If it is close to the truth, then they will have to explain to Nigerians.”
Probed if the committee is likely to take up the matter Rafiu said: “Definitely, I will call the Clerk to ask them that we are expecting their report as promised in the retreat. “In the report, if we find anything close to this, I will let you know.
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“We will write them and probably give ultimatum for the report. This is a very sensitive thing to the economy.
“All of us know they (MTN) committed a lot of resources in Nigeria; so we don’t want them to be used as a yardstick as to how the Nigerian government treats investors.”
The Senate adopted a report last year largely exonerating MTN of alleged illegal repatriation of $14 billion out of the country.
The upper chamber also asked the CBN to sanction Stanbic IBTC Bank “for improper documentations in respect of capital repatriation and loan repayments” on behalf of MTN.
This followed the consideration of the report of its committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions which investigated alleged unlawful repatriation of $13.92 billion from Nigeria.
MTN accepted the Senate report saying: “We welcome the report. We will study it in more detail. As we’ve placed on record previously, we have always insisted that our actions have been compliant with the law in this regard.”
On CBN, Senate said that the apex bank’s failure to properly regulate foreign exchange should be condemned.
It also asked the bank to propose amendments to current regulation to foster economic growth and improve Nigeria’s foreign currency inflows.