NIGERIA'S central bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, met with MTN Group and four banks yesterday to negotiate a dispute over money the bank says was transferred illegally out of the country. Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – MTN is said to have held talks with Nigeria’s central bank governor Godwin Emefiele yesterday in a bid to address the bank’s demand for the company to pay back $8.1 billion (R120.17bn) which it claimed was "unlawfully repatriated". 

MTN, which has been embroiled in a legal battle with the CBN for allegedly unlawfully removing money from the country, was volatile on the JSE in line with the jittery market.

However, MTN closed 0.74 percent higher at R86.64 on the JSE yesterday, despite expectations that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene would be replaced following his testimony at the state capture commission that he had visited the Gupta residences 11 times. 

MTN has lost value amid market scepticism that it will not recover from its past woes in Nigeria and the current demand for $2bn in taxes from authorities. It paid more than $1bn to settle a dispute over unregistered SIM cards in that country. 

The mobile operator yesterday declined to comment. “We won’t be commenting at this stage, we will advise the market as appropriate,” an MTN spokesperson said.

Cape Town-based portfolio manager Peter Takaendesa at Mergence Investment Managers said yesterday that the meeting was an acknowledgement that the ongoing dispute had spooked investors.

“They realise the dispute is not helpful to the country overall,” he said. “They want to resolve it and are concerned about what it means for investors. They are also worried about what message it sends to investors in Nigeria and internationally.” 

The meeting comes weeks after the bank’s examiners reviewed documents from Johannesburg-based MTN as well as four banks blamed for moving the money out of the continent’s biggest oil producer without the regulator’s authorisation. 

The four banks were slapped with a $16 million fine for helping take the money out of the country.