LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is leading negotiations for MTN as the South Africa-based telecommunications giant tries to eliminate or reduce a $3.9 billion fine imposed against the company's Nigerian subsidiary, the Nigerian Communications Commission said Thursday.
Spokesman Tony Ojobo said Holder "is leading MTN's legal team" in negotiations agreed by the Federal High Court in Lagos, where MTN is challenging the imposition and amount of the fine. Experts say it's one of the largest in the history of the industry.
Holder was in President Barack Obama's Cabinet from 2009 to 2015, when he returned to practice with Covington & Burling, a Washington law firm that specializes in international regulatory practices.
The commission fined MTN Nigeria for failing to deactivate 5.2 million unregistered cellphone SIM cards by an August 2015 deadline, saying it is a national security threat in a country where cellphones are used in kidnappings and extremist attacks. Initial talks led the agency to reduce the fine from $5.2 billion — twice the amount of profits MTN reported making in Nigeria in 2014.
The High Court last month gave the parties until March 18 to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. Talks led by Holder and Commissioner Umar Garba Danbatta began last week in Lagos, Ojobo told The Associated Press.
The same court last month denied an application by Nigeria's attorney general and justice minister, Abubakar Malami, to freeze MTN bank accounts. Malami told the court he believed MTN was stalling so that it could move its funds out of the country. He said the company in 2008 had transferred $936 million out of Nigeria to accounts in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Mauritius.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with some 60 million MTN subscribers, is by far the biggest market for the MTN group.