MTNgate: FG fine shakes South Africa’s economy

MTN Group Ltd.’s fights with Nigerian authorities over $10 billion in repatriated funds and back taxes could increase risk in South Africa’s financial system depending on the outcome, Central Bank of the Republic of South Africa (SARB) said.

 The Central Bank otherwise known as the Reserve Bank, said that “The immediate, or at least near-term, repatriation of the funds to the Nigerian authorities could affect MTN Group’s ability to continue meeting its debt obligations, including those in the South African banking sector, which, given the interconnected nature of the financial system, could increase systemic risk”

 This was contained in South African Reserve Bank’s Financial Stability Review released Wednesday in the capital, Pretoria.

 The claims amount to almost all of MTN’s market value of about $12 billion, it said.

 MTN, which is Africa’s biggest wireless carrier by subscribers and is based in Johannesburg, is facing mounting pressure to return $8.1 billion to Nigeria after its central bank argued that the South African company had repatriated funds illegally.

 Separately, Nigeria’s attorney general’s office alleges the company owes $2 billion in back taxes.

 A “potential worst-case scenario” would be for MTN to pull out of Nigeria, which would increase the company’s exposure level to reputational risk, the Reserve Bank said.

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) alleged in late August that MTN and four banks — Standard Chartered Plc, Citigroup Inc., Stanbic IBTC Plc and Diamond Bank Plc — illegally repatriated the money from Nigeria.

 MTN sought an injunction in early September to buy itself time and fight the claim in its biggest market, which has wiped 18 percent off its market value within two weeks.