* MTN is Africa’s largest mobile operator
* Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market
* MTN shares down 12 pct (Adds analyst comments, Nigeria economy, shares)
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Telecom group MTN confirmed on Monday that the Nigerian regulator had fined it $5.2 billion for failing to disconnect subscribers with unregistered or incomplete SIM cards.
Africa’s largest mobile operator said in a statement that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) imposed the fine on MTN Nigeria over the timing of the disconnection of 5.1 million subscribers in August and September.
“MTN Nigeria is currently in discussions with the NCC to resolve the matter ...,” the company said.
MTN shares fell sharply on news of the fine, closing 12.49 percent lower at 167 rand. Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market.
The NCC said all telecom firms operating in Nigeria except MTN had complied with the directive.
“We had a directive that was given to all the networks to de-activate all unregistered SIM cards on their networks and they had enough time to do that,” Tony Ojobo, NCC’s director of public affairs, said.
“We came out with all guidelines and the fine was supposed to be 200,000 naira ($1,005) per SIM card.”
The regulator said MTN had not denied the infraction and that its enforcement team de-activated the unregistered lines to ensure compliance.
“The fine is massive. At the going exchange rate, it’s about 70 billion rand ($5 billion), which is more than a fifth of the company’s market value,” a trader at Inkhunzi Investments in Johannesburg, Petri Redelinghuys said.
Seven months after Muhammadu Buhari was elected president on a promise to “fix” Nigeria, a policy vacuum has brought decision-making to a halt, hampering everything from national budget planning to new roads.
A fall in Nigeria’s oil revenues has hit public finances and the naira currency.
MTN reported a slowdown in quarterly subscriber growth last week, citing stiff competition and tougher regulation in Nigeria.
“Whenever the Nigerian regulator steps up enforcement, MTN takes a hammering,” Africa Analysis telecoms analyst, Dobek Pater, said. Nigeria contributes around a third of MTN’s sales, he said.
$1 = 13.6145 rand $1 = 198.9700 naira Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha in Lagos; Editing by James Macharia and Adrian Croft
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