Alleged Share Manipulation: EFCC Raids MTN Office, Quizzes Mgt Staff

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Chika Amanze-Nwachuku and Emma Okonji

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday raided the head office of MTN Nigeria Communications Plc in Falomo, Lagos over the scandal rocking the company’s recent listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

Top management personnel of the company were said to have been interrogated by the operatives, who stormed the telco’s corporate headquarters at about 4pm.

THISDAY gathered that the EFCC team had demanded for documents in connection with the share listing which were promptly provided to them.

Although no official of the EFCC and MTN could provide official statements on the matter, a source familiar with the deal, said the visit of the team from the anti-graft agency was sequel to the barrage of complaints from “several unnamed brokers that the shares of MTN are not available for the public to buy despite the recent listing that was greeted by huge excitement.”

A stockbroker, who spoke on the matter last night said the astronomical rise in the MTN shares few days after the listing, was a clear indication that some underhand deals must be in the offing.

There are also growing concern among the top players in the Nigerian bourse that if MTN shares continue to climb at such astronomic rate, they stand the risk of being displaced from their vantage positions as market leaders.

When contacted, the Senior Manager, External Relations at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Funso Aina said the company would issue an official statement on the issue.

“We will issue a statement very soon”, Aina said in an SMS to THISDAY last night.

But as at the time of filing this report, the company was yet to release any official statement on the issue.

Also, acting spokesman of the EFCC, Tony Oriade, told THISDAY last night he would get in touch with the Lagos office to be able to give accurate account of what transpired. As at press time, he was yet to get back.

MTN had on May 16, listed its shares on the NSE by way of an introductory listing. The listing by introduction meant that the shares of existing MTN Nigeria shareholders were listed without an additional public sale of shares. By this development, all MTN Nigeria shareholders are free to trade their shares on the NSE.

But investors and stakeholders have been expressing worries about the free float accommodation MTN Nigeria Communications Plc was granted by the capital market regulators to pave the way for its listing. Their concerns stemmed from the fact that the price of MTN shares would be sold at high premium and those waiting to buy the shares through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), would be forced to buy them at very high cost, whenever the telecoms company decides to float the IPO.

The investors feared that the shares of MTN Nigeria have been manipulated to drive the price of the stock very high before any share offering through an IPO.

However despite the alleged manipulation of the MTN shares, the telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has declared confidence in the shares listing.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, while speaking at the valedictory service organised for the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu in Abuja recently, said through the MTN’s listing on the NSE, the Commission had translated into action, an important function of the Commission, which is to promote local investment and ownership in the telecom sector.

“With MTN shares available in the capital market, Nigerians will buy shares and by purchasing the shares of MTN, they will be financially empowered and be socially transformed. We consider this a very important milestone in translating the function of the NCC into reality, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003,” Danbatta said.