October 29, 2019 / 8:35 AM / 15 days ago

MTN's $2 billion Nigerian tax dispute case set for January 30-31

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an advertising poster for MTN on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 30, 2018. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

LAGOS (Reuters) - A federal judge in Lagos has set Jan. 30 and 31 for the hearing of a $2 billion tax dispute between South Africa’s MTN Group and the Nigerian government.

The attorney general has demanded the telecoms firm pay the tax bill relating to the import of equipment and payments to foreign suppliers from 2007 to 2017, but MTN argues the claim is without merit and that the attorney general exceeded his powers in making the request.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the government submitted their case against MTN, insisting the attorney general has the power to levy the charge and requesting a court date in late January to continue the proceedings.

Government lawyers had in June asked that the case be adjourned until October to give time to prepare their case, the latest dispute between MTN and the Nigerian government.

Nigeria is the South African firm’s biggest market, with roughly 58 million users accounting for a third of its core profit.

In December, MTN agreed to make a $53 million payment to resolve a separate dispute with Nigeria’s central bank, which said the company improperly removed $8.1 billion from the country between 2007 and 2008.

MTN also this year was set to pay off another 330 billion naira ($1 billion) fine imposed for not disconnecting unregistered SIM cards.

In May, the company’s local unit, MTN Nigeria, listed in Lagos in a 2 trillion naira flotation that made it the second-largest stock on the bourse by market value.

It has said that it would sell more shares to the public and increase local ownership once the tax row is resolved.

Reporting by Libby George and Eniola Oluwatusin; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Jason Neely

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