South African telecoms giant MTN on Wednesday denied an allegation that it had illegally repatriated $13.92 billion from Nigeria, saying the claim was without merit.
Senator Dino Melaye had at plenary on Tuesday, opened up the allegation, fingering a senior minister in the cabinet in the huge money transfer.
It would be recalled that Senators agreed to investigate the allegation that MTN, Africa’s biggest telecoms company, illegally transferred the money out of the West African country.
But MTN Nigeria chief executive Ferdi Moolman said in a statement that “The allegations made against MTN are completely unfounded and without any merit,”
The allegation threatens to raise tensions between Nigeria and MTN just three months after the South African firm agreed to pay a reduced fine of 330 billion naira in a settlement with Abuja over unregistered SIM cards.
MTN is the largest mobile phone operator in Nigeria, which accounts for around one third of the company’s revenues. The company had threatened to pull out of Nigeria during the dispute over unregistered SIM cards.
It would be recalled that it was fire and brimstone at the floor of the Nigerian Senate when Senator Dino Melaye, member representing Kogi-West Senatorial District, Tuesday, alleged that MTN Nigeria had repatriated $13.9 billion from Nigeria to other countries between 2006 and now with the help of a serving minister and some banks.
The Minister fingered was Mr. Okey Enelamah, Minister for Trade, Commerce and Investment from Abia State.
Melaye, who stated this as the Senate began a probe into allegation that MTN Nigeria had taken money out of Nigeria illegally, revealed that Stanbic IBTC, allegedly helped the firm to transfer $4.87 billion; Standard Chartered Bank, $5.72 billion; Citi Bank, $2.98 billion; and Diamond Bank, $0.35billion.
The lawmaker disclosed further that he had documentary evidences to back his claims, some of which he brought to the floor of the chamber and said would be made available for investigation.
According to him, “The Senate observes that MTN did not request for the Certificate of Capital Importation from its bankers, Standard Chartered Bank, within the regulatory period of 24 hours of the inflow. The Senate observes also that the CBN was not notified of this inflow by Standard Chartered Bank within 48 hours of receipt and conversion of the proceeds to naira as required by regulation.
“It further observes that the sum of $117,683,987bn was also brought in by MTN between 2001 and 2003 in three different tranches. It is concerned that since inception, MTN had sought the collaboration of influential and unpatriotic Nigerians to assist them in looting our external reserves.”
Melaye made it clear that a serving minister, who he said MTN allegedly used in moving $13.92bn out of Nigeria, which was over 50 per cent of the country’s external reserves, to floated and incorporated offshore Special Purpose Vehicles in the Cayman Island, Mauritius and British Virgin Island.
The senator listed the names of the SPVs, their promoters/shareholders and their share loan between MTN South Africa as: Cel Telephone Investment Limited, Port Louis, Mauritius; Dr. Pascal Dozie and Dr. Okechuckwu Elenemah; $20,749,532; Celtel funded shares SPV (which was renamed NISPV Limited in 2008), Port Louis, Mauritius; Dr. Pascal Dozie, Ahmed Dasuki, Gbenga Oyebode, Babatunde Folawiyo and Dr. Okechukwu Elenemah, $2,019,232.
Others are Mobile Communication Investment Limited, Port Louis, Mauritius; Mohammed Sanni Bello; $3,862,985; Mobile Communication Holdings, Port Louis, Mauritius; Mohammed Sanni Bello; $3,454,102; Hermitage Overseas Corporation Limited; Victor Odili; $10,273,986; SASPV Limited and Ahmed Dasuki, $10,058,991.
The list also includes NCell Limited, Geneva Water Front Drive, British Virgin Island; Gbenga Oyebode, $4,512,593; Universal Communication Limited, Barkly House, George Town, Cayman Island; and Babatunde Folawiyo, $5,534,941.
While ruling on the matter, Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, noted that the allegations raised by Melaye were serious and required thorough investigation as the issues could not be ignored.
In line with legislative procedures on issues of critical national importance, the lawmakers subsequently voted that the Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions should carry out “a holistic investigation” into the matter and report back to the Senate. The committee is expected to turn in her report in seven days.