AGF queries Senate panel’s stance on probe of MTN’s fine

MTN• Says ‘N50b is merely part payment’

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has said that the N50 billion collected from MTN Nigeria is merely a part payment to the government.

In a letter in which he questioned the integrity of the Senate Committee on Communications in getting to the root of the controversy surrounding the N780 billion reduced fine slammed on MTN by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Malami took exception to some of the accusations allegedly levelled against him by the panel.

The committee, some weeks ago, had lamented the role the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Office of the Attorney-general played and had observed that they were less than transparent in their roles in the negotiations and payment made by MTN.

But the minister yesterday said that the former US Attorney General and counsel to the MTN, Eric Holder, wouldn’t have entered into the meeting with him if he was not sure he was the most appropriate person with whom to negotiate.

According to Malami, the government insisted that MTN, which Holder represented, must show some commitment by ensuring part payment of N50 billion. The insistence was that no audience could be granted to the company or anyone acting on its behalf while the case is still pending in court and in the absence of demonstration of good faith by MTN.

The letter titled ‘The N50bn Payment By MTN Telecommunications Limited To The Federal Government – A Misrepresentation of the Facts of the Matter’ and signed by his Special Adviser, Salihu Othman Isah, reads:

“To this request, MTN offered to comply, and indeed complied by withdrawing the case unconditionally and to make an agreed payment of N50 billion ($250 million), an offer the government accepted only to grant audience to it and its counsel in relation to the settlement discussions (and without prejudice and in good faith).

“The payment was made on February 24th, into a Federal Government Recoveries Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The company also filed an application to withdraw its pending suit in an attempt to fulfil the second condition for audience with the government on the matter. This was also confirmed by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice before it agreed to grant audience to MTN or its counsel.

“And having fulfilled the two conditions as demanded by the Federal Government through the OHAGF/MOJ (Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice), the MTN through its counsel Holder and his Covington legal team thereby sought audience with HAGF/MOJ who yet denied going into any negotiations, but demanded a proposal of the terms meant to be discussed in writing.

Holder obliged those terms and the HAGF/MOJ who quickly despatched a mail through the normal official channel to the Minister of Communications and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) inviting them for their input before fixing any meeting. And while still awaiting the responses of both, no meeting or discussion or negotiation has been held on the issue ever since.”

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