- MTN passionately asked for staged payments – source
- MTN rejects claims it requested for staggered payments
- Deadline to pay penalty set for Monday
- Unregistered SIM cards used for criminal activity (Adds MTN denial that it has sought staged payments)
South African mobile phone firm MTN Group denied on Sunday that it has asked the Nigerian authorities to be allowed to pay by instalments a $5.2 billion fine due on Monday.
Earlier a source at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had said that MTN had asked to be allowed to stagger the payment.
The NCC imposed the fine on MTN last month for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million unregistered SIM cards being used on its Nigerian network.
Nigeria has been pushing telecommunication operators to verify the identity of subscribers due to concerns that unregistered SIM cards are being used for criminal activity or by Boko Haram militants in the northeast.
The source at the NCC had said that Nigeria’s government was considering the request, made at a meeting on Friday between MTN and high-level government officials, and that the decision would be disclosed on Monday.
“At the meeting, MTN pleaded passionately for staggered payment since the option of reduction of the fine had been ruled out,” the NCC source said.
However, a source familiar with the discussions said that an eleventh hour reduction of the fine could still be possible.
“Until the final announcement is made, there may be some room for manoeuvre,” the source familiar with the situation said.
Spokesmen for Nigeria’s presidency and communications ministry declined to comment.
The new communications minister, Adebayo Shittu, told Reuters on Friday the government did not want MTN “to die” or shut down operations as a result of the penalty.
The fine is based on $1,000 per outstanding unregistered SIM card, as stipulated by Nigerian telecommunications laws.
Nigeria accounts for 37 percent of revenues for MTN, which operates in more than 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East and generated total revenues of 146.9 billion rand ($10.21 billion) last year.
Since the announcement of the fine, its shares have lost nearly 25 percent of their value. MTN’s group operating profit in 2014 amounted to 49.65 billion rand ($3.45 billion), up from 41.15 billion in 2013, according to the company’s annual report.