MTN $14b repatriation: Senate carpets CBN over regulatory failures

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

The Senate has rebuked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for regulatory failures and withdrawn a report that largely exonerated MTN of accusations of illegally repatriating $14 billion.

The report, presented to the Senate at the weekend, was immediately sent back for further work because it did not capture possible infractions by all stakeholders.

The Senate agreed last September to investigate whether MTN, Africa's biggest telecoms company unlawfully repatriated $13.92 billion from Nigeria - its cash cow that generates a third of its revenue - between 2006 and 2016. But MTN denied any wrongdoing.

The allegation was that MTN did not obtain certificates declaring it had invested forex in Nigeria within a 24-hour deadline stipulated in extant law, and so the repatriation of returns on those investments was illegal.

A committee was set up by the upper chamber to investigate the allegations against MTN and some lenders which include the CBN and Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC.

The committee's report gave no recommendations for punitive measures against MTN.

Instead, the report carpeted the CBN over its failure to monitor fund transfers to and from the country, calling its oversight of banks "inadequate."

The report recommended that the Senate "condemn the CBN for failing in its duty" to address problems with its monitoring of foreign exchange transfers.

The CBN's duty is to correct and if needed sanction banks and their customers for any wrongdoing, which it never did, said the report, adding that the central bank never testified to the committee that there were any infractions.

By never applying sanctions, the CBN had lent credence to the banks' argument that they were not breaking any rules by transferring foreign currency.

However, the report also urged the CBN to "sanction Stanbic IBTC for improper documentations in respect of capital repatriation and loan repayments amounting to $388,195,183 and $199,440,952 respectively".

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