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The Nigerian government is yet to file its response to the suit, MTN Nigeria filed challenging the legality of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) assessment of its import duties, withholding of tax and value-added tax in the sums of N242 billion and 1.3 billion dollars at the close of business today, a situation that could well torpedo its suit against the company, BusinessDay has gathered.
With the absence of a minister of justice following President Mohammadu Buhari’s inability to speedily assemble a cabinet, the task of going ahead with the case lies with the solicitor general but there are speculations that even the Solicitor General may be unavailable which has led to an inability to file court papers on Tuesday.
In the suit, MTN contends that the revenue assets investigation allegedly carried out by the Federal Government for the period of 2007 – 2017 violates Section 36 of the Constitution that stipulates fair hearing for the accused. It also claims that the government’s decision conveyed through the office of the AGF, by a letter dated Aug. 20, contravenes the provisions of the section.
However, for the beleaguered telecommunications giant, the suit has wide implications for its business. The South African based telecommunication multinational listed its shares on the Nigeria Stock Exchange trade floor by introduction in May but had been unable to complete an initial Public Offer (IPO).
Investors are holding their breath to see the direction of this suit as it would materially affect the company’s valuation. MTN put 20.33 billion ordinary shares up for purchase on the secondary floor of the NSE at a value of N90 per share which puts the value of its shares at $5 billion. If the Nigerian government succeeds in obtaining a $2billion court judgement against it, the valuation of the company will substantially change.
At the resumed hearing of the case on May 7, a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court rejected a preliminary objection filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, seeking to dismiss the N3 billion suit filed by MTN, against the Nigerian government.
Tijani Gazali, who represented the attorney general, said MTN did not file its legal opposition to the demand within the required three-month timeframe whereas Wole Olanipekun, representing the telecoms firm said that was not the case.
Chukwujekwu Aneke, the judge, ruled that the suit was filed in accordance with the required time frame. The judge adjourned till June 26 for the hearing of the substantive case.
MTN had filed a suit last year challenging the AGF’s claims of unpaid import duties and withholding taxes between 2007 and 2017 amounting to N242 billion and $1.3 billion. MTN is demanding for N3 billion as general and exemplary damages and legal costs.