A Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria on Tuesday barred MTN from moving funds from any of the country’s bank pending the hearing of a suit challenging the N1.4 trillion ($5.2 billion) fine imposed on it by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).
Nigeria’s government recently brought a motion restraining 21 commercial banks from releasing funds to the telecommunications company.
“The FG seeks an order of Mareva injunction [a court order which requests assets be frozen] restraining the aforementioned banks from releasing, making a sale, transferring, or paying any of the monies maintained by the plaintiff MTN,” the motion read in part.
The telecommunications company was originally hit with a $5.2 billion fine by NCC in October 2015 due to failure to disconnect unregistered subscribers.
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NCC said the failure was a direct violation of regulations put in place by the regulating body in order to combat the activities of kidnapping and the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria. It added that both crimes often involve the usage of cell phones.
The fine was eventually reduced to $3.9 billion in December following MTN’s protest. The telecommunications company sued the NCC and the Attorney General of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami contending that the body does not have the right to levy the fine.
Media reports in Nigeria indicate that the government imposed the fine after the kidnapping of a former finance minister,Chief Olu Falae. The kidnappers used an unregistered Sim card from MTN to demand a ransom.
Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market, with 28.5 million subscribers, followed by Iran and South Africa.