MTN Admits Non-compliance with Extant Law on Repatriation of $13.9bn
• Trade Minister, Enelamah, ignores directive, walks out of public hearing
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
At the commencement of investigative hearing into the alleged illegal repatriation of $13.9 billion out of the country by MTN yesterday, the company told the Senate Committee on Banks, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, that circumstances compelled it to move funds without observing the law.
The Senate had on September 27, 2016, alleged that MTN in connivance with the Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, and four commercial banks exploited the porous Nigerian financial system to move the money out of the country without the required authorisation.
The upper legislative chamber according to a motion moved by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) on September 27, alleged that MTN smartly beat Nigeria’s financial regulatory laws by failing to obtain a certificate of capital importation (CCI) as authorised by CBN Financial and Miscellaneous Act within 24 hours between 2006 and 2016 before moving the money out of the country.
It further alleged that the repatriation was done through four banks, viz: Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Diamond Bank and Citi Bank.
However, why MTN and other stakeholders, inluding the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Financial Regulation Council of Nigeria (FRCN), summoned by the committee to testify on the allegation stated their own sides of the story, Enelamah defied the committee’s directive not to leave before testifying as he instead walked out of the meeting venue before its commencement.
This resulted in insinuations by some individuals present at the meeting that the minister might have done so because he had something to hide moreso that he had earlier given excuses for his failure to appear before the committee on October 12.
However, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MTN, Fedi Moolman, admitted that the company moved funds without complying with the 24-hour order for the issuance of CCI, saying it was practically impossible to do so.
Nevertheless, he stated that the action was taken without any deliberate intention to flout Nigerian laws but was rather compelled to do so because of circumstances which he said made it impossible for it to observe the 24-hour provision in the Act for issuance of CCI.
He said: “There was no intention to flout the rule and regulation. The 24-hour rule is not in all cases practicable and it is almost impossible to comply with.”
The CEO further told the committee that MTN faced acute challenges when it got to Nigeria in 2000 as it found out that necessary facilities for business transactions were not available, a situation he said compelled it to import equipment to Nigeria.
He, however, attempted to justify his claim that MTN meant well for Nigeria through his submissions that MTN solely contributed 3.4 per cent of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 2006 and had since its advent in Nigeria employed 500,000 Nigerians directly and indirectly.
He also claimed that besides generating 80 per cent of the electricity it uses, MTN had committed N16 billion to various projects in Nigeria through its MTN Foundation and paid N1.6 trillion tax in 14 years. He further claimed that funds moved out of Nigeria were MTN’s dividends done in line with due process.
But Moolman’s submission was in contradiction to the presentation of Mr. Pascal Dozie, Chairman of Diamond Bank, who denied the allegation of illegal repatriation by MTN, arguing that MTN had invested $16 billion in Nigeria within 16 years.
He said the money imported to Nigeria was done in three tranches as he insisted that the allegation by the Senate “was completely false.”
According to him, when MTN came to Nigeria, it offered 40 per cent shares to Nigerians while it took the other 60 per cent only to find out that it was difficult to get Nigerians to invest 12 per cent of the 40 per cent offer. He added that MTN had to bring other investors before it could secure 25 per cent of the offer.
Dozie further said it was these Nigerians who constituted Celtelecom adding that a conversion of Celtelecom investment was done in 2007 through its bankers with CBN approval as he exonerated Enelamah, saying he was not a shareholder in MTN but only a director of Celtelecom and CEO of Capital Alliance which he said midwived the Celtelecom.
But Melaye countered him as he displayed a form signed by Enelamah on February 7, 2008 for repatriation of funds, with a CCI form attached the same day investment was said to have been made in Nigeria, as he queried: “Is it possible to invest in Nigeria same day and repatriate funds same day?”
Melaye also confronted Dozie and MTN CEO with evidences that whereas CCI was supposed to have been issued within 24 hours before repatriation, such CCIs were not issued until five years later as he dismissed Dozie’s claim that Nigerian laws were not flouted in the process. “The law says CCI should be issued in 24 hours but CCIs were issued five years after. Is that not a contravention?” he queried.
Melaye also said he had information that whereas CBN approved only 13 CCIs, Stanbic IBTC only had issued over 300 CCIs without containing the necessary information it ought to contain.
But CBN in its submission said it only approved CCIs beyond the 24-hour stipulation when it was obvious that banks could not issue the document within the stipulated time.
In his submission, Managing Director of Diamond Bank and son of Dozie, Uzoma, said the bank had issued some CCIs to MTN as he admitted that the bank had been involved in repatriation of funds by MTN but added that such repatriations were “carried out with appropriate documentation,” adding: “None was repatriated without genuine CCIs.”
Also speaking, the CEO of Stanbic IBTC, Olayinka Sani, who evaded questions directly put to him, said his bank was ready to co-operate with the committee in its investigation adding that it had represented MTN in various capacities since the company opened an account with the bank.
Also, the Managing Director of Citibank, Akin Daodu, said the bank had never been involved in any illegal repatriation of funds as he disclosed that Citibank had issued 46 CCIs on behalf of MTN so far.
But in view of Daodu’s claim, Melaye drew his attention to the document his bank had earlier submitted to the committee where it had stated that “MTN didn’t request for CCI’s to be issued until more than the 24 hours,” required to issue the CCIs. Against this background, he could no longer defend the claim he earlier made moreso that Melaye reminded him that he was making his submissions under oath.
In her own submission, the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, Mrs. Yemi Owolabi, admitted that in most cases when they were contacted for issuance of CCIs by MTN, prevalent circumstances made such issuance impossible within the stipulated time frame.
According to her, such circumstances had always compelled the bank to contact the CBN to explain the difficult circumstances in which it found itself, pointing out that they only issued the documents after securing the go-ahead from the apex bank. “Until we get approval from CBN, we don’t issue CCI,” she added.
Towards the end of the meeting, Moolman reiterated that MTN had not claimed that it had complied with the 24-hour regulation for the issuance of CCI 100 per cent but explained that such developments were dictated by circumstances beyond its control.
At the end of the meeting, Chairman of the committee, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, urged Dozie to educate Enelamah on how to behave as he warned the minister against getting on Senate’s nerves, insisting that if he thought he could dare the Senate, the parliament would be forced to invoke its power to force him to appear before the committee.
“We want you to advise him. For him to tell us that he couldn’t wait, I think he was being audacious against the Senate. We as senators expect him to engage the Senate in a more civilised way or else, we ‘ll be forced to invoke our powers,” Ibrahim threatened.
Enelamah had upon his arrival at the commencement of the event, approached the chairman and requested for his leave to attend another engagement which the chairman turned down. But the committee was shocked that Enelamah opted to dare the committee by walking away.
While senators perceived Enelamah’s action to be insolent, some of the individuals present alleged that the minister might have deliberately opted to avoid making submissions before the committee.
However, Enelamah has reiterated that he is not involved in any wrong-doing, with regard to the MTN saga.
According to a statement from the minister’s office last night and signed by the Director of Press, Greene Anosike, the minister said:
“Enelamah served as CEO of Capital Alliance Nigeria Ltd (CANL) between 1998 and 2015. CANL is a wholly owned subsidiary of African Captial Alliance (ACA), an Africa focused private equity firm with investments in carefully selected companies within and outside Nigeria, including MTN Nigeria
“A fund managed by ACA, alongside other minority shareholders, invested in MTN Nigeria through Celtelecom. Enelamah was never the ‘owner’ of Celtelecom, neither was he ever a Celtelecom shareholder. Instead, he was a director of the company representing the ACA Managed fund.
“Investors do not have responsibility for remittance of proceeds from the company they are invested in. Therefore, at no time was Enelamah in a position to transfer funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria, and at no time did he transfer any funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria. As it relates to Celtelecom’s investment in MTN Nigeria, it is important to note that the entire process for applying for and using Certificate of Capital Importation (CCIs) was done by MTN Nigeria.
“All the allegations against the minister therefore, are baseless and without merit.”