Nigeria has slapped MTN Group with a $2 billion tax bill, compounding the woes of the leading wireless company.
The company made known the tax bill on Tuesday and in a long statement rejected the plan of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to recover the taxes accumulating from import duties, VAT and withholding taxes on foreign imports/payments.
The company also shed some light on the earlier bill of $8.1 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The MTN Corporate Relations Executive, Tobe Okigbo in a statement said that MTN believes that it has fully settled all amounts owed under the taxes in question.
The statement said: “Following the receipt of the letter from the Central Bank of Nigeria on foreign exchange repatriation, MTN Nigeria has provided an update on the company’s position on the issue.
“The company has also notified the market, and all stakeholders that it has received a notice from the Attorney General of Nigeria that he intends to recover up to US$ 2 billion of tax relating to, inter alia, import duties, VAT and withholding taxes on foreign imports/payments.
“MTN continues to strenuously deny the allegations being made by the Central Bank of Nigeria and has equally strenuously rejected the findings of the Attorney General’s investigation and believes it has fully settled all amounts owing under the taxes in question.
“It is both regrettable and disconcerting that despite the historic engagements with the Nigerian authorities by MTN Nigeria, the senate investigation into the CCI matter, and the multiple tax assessments done by the Nigerian tax authorities over many years that were satisfactorily concluded, that these matters are being reopened.”
Okigbo said that from the CBN’s letter and subsequent statements, it was clear that there was no dispute that the capital captured in MTN’s books and for which CCIs were issued was imported into Nigeria, and acknowledged explicitly by the CBN.
He added that it was equally clear that Nigerian law provides for guaranteed unconditional transferability of funds through an authorised dealer in freely convertible currency relating to dividends or profits attributable to the investment, payments and in respect of loan servicing where a foreign loan has been obtained.
According to him, all dividend repatriation done by MTN Nigeria to its shareholders was done on the basis of its equity capital and all the historic dividends were declared against valid equity CCIs.
He said: “In fact no preference dividends were declared and no interest in respect of these preference shares was paid.
“This means that it is incorrect to suggest that the conversion of a shareholder loan to preference shares has any relation to the repatriation of dividends. The two are simply not connected and we are trying to understand this position that the Central Bank has taken.
“On the Attorney General’s ‘demand notice’ for historical tax obligations, MTN has conducted a detailed review of these claims, and provided evidence of tax remittance to the Attorney General’s office.
“The Attorney General’s notice indicates that he is rejecting this evidence. We believe that all taxes due to the Nigerian government have been paid and these allegations have not been raised by any of the revenue generating agencies that MTN engages with regularly, and from whom MTN has received numerous awards for compliance.”
Okigbo said MTN Nigeria would continue to engage with the relevant authorities on all these matters and remains resolute it had not committed any offence and would vigorously defend its position.
He said as regards update on CBN’s letter on foreign exchange, MTN Group and the original shareholders had injected a total of $402, 625,419 into MTN Nigeria between 2001 and 2006 in the form of loans and equity.
He said these initial inflows were the basis for the issuance of various legacy CCIs obtained from Authorized Dealers in accordance with regulations, of which the inflow of capital had been confirmed by the CBN.
He added that the CCI process was essentially in place both for the protection of investors as well as to provide the CBN with documentary evidence for monitoring capital inflows and outflows.
Okigbo said: “Although over time the CCIs have been re-issued, consolidated and re-constituted to reflect the changing MTN capital and shareholding structure, the amount of $402, 625,419, has remained the same.
“One aspect of the changing capital structure was the conversion of shareholder loans to preference shares.
“It is important to note that all the historic dividends were declared against valid equity CCIs and in fact no preference dividends were declared and no interest in respect of these preference shares was paid.”
Okigbo added that as regards the Attorney General’s letter, he notified MTN that his office made a high-level calculation that MTN Nigeria should have paid approximately $2 billion in taxes.
He said the taxes were related to the importation of foreign equipment and payments to foreign suppliers over the last 10 years and he requested MTN Nigeria to do a self-assessment of the taxes in this regard that have been actually paid.
He said: “In August 2018 MTN submitted comprehensive documentation to the office of the AG.
“MTN Nigeria has also completed an initial assessment of the full period which indicates that total payments made to the tax authorities in regard to these foreign imports and payments in aggregate are $700 million. There are valid reasons for the differences between the actual payments and the AG high-level assessment.
“We were notified by the office of the AG last week that they have not accepted the documentation presented and they have given notice of an intention to recover the $2 bn from MTN Nigeria.”
MTN Nigerian business brings in a third of its annual core profit or EBITDA.
Shares in MTN fell 17 per cent to 72 rand at 1315 GMT, bringing losses since last Thursday when the CBN issued its demand, to nearly a third.
MTN, which has expanded in more than 20 frontier markets, including war-ravaged Syria and Afghanistan, called the latest demands by Nigerian authorities “regrettable and disconcerting”.
“We remain resolute that MTN Nigeria has not committed any offences and will vigorously defend its position,” it said.