MTN shares slump as Nigeria probes alleged $13.9bn offshore transfer


MTN shares in South Africa slumped the most in almost two months after Nigerian lawmakers raised new allegations about the wireless carrier, this time accusing the company of illegally moving almost $14 billion out of its largest market.

Nigeria’s Senate will thoroughly investigate the claim made by its member representing Kogi-West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye, on Tuesday.

The Johannesburg-based company, Africa’s biggest wireless carrier by sales, is accused of repatriating the funds over 10 years starting in 2006, according to Melaye.

The four banks involved in the alleged illegal transfers are Citigroup Inc., Standard Chartered Plc, and Nigerian lenders Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc and Diamond Bank Plc.

Senate President Bukola Saraki noted that the allegations raised by Melaye were serious and required thorough investigation as the issues could not be ignored.

The lawmakers subsequently voted that the Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions should carry out “a holistic investigation” into the matter and report back to the Senate.

The committee was given two weeks to carry out the task.

Representatives for MTN, Citigroup and Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group Ltd., which controls Stanbic, declined to comment.

The other two banks weren’t immediately available to comment.

MTN shares fell 3.4 percent to 119.77 rand by the market close in Johannesburg, the steepest decline since Aug. 2. That values the company at 221 billion rand ($16.4 billion).

The accusation comes a little over three months after MTN agreed to pay a N330billion naira ($1 billion) fine in cash to the Nigerian government and list its local unit on the country’s stock exchange after about eight months of negotiations.

That penalty was imposed for missing a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million customers unregistered in the country, which is battling an Islamist insurgency.

The stock has fallen more than 37 percent since the fine was first reported in October, allowing South Africa rival Vodacom Group Ltd. to overtake the company in terms of market valuation.

Nigeria Trade and Investment Minister, Okechukwu Enelamah, was among people “who MTN used” in moving the funds, according to Melaye.

MTN shares had fallen earlier on Tuesday after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) blocked the carrier’s attempt to take over internet spectrum owned by closely held Visafone, which it had agreed to buy in January.

MTN is trying to add capacity to extend internet access in Nigeria and South Africa as revenue from voice services declines.