Group accuses U.S., UK of unfair statements over MTN fine

Femi Falana (SAN)
Femi Falana (SAN)

A civil society group, People’s Alternative Front (PAF) has criticised officials of the United States and the United Kingdom over their comments on the effect of telecommunication giant MTN’s row with the Nigerian government.

A statement signed by lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, president of the group, said without prejudice to the ongoing moves by the CBN and MTN to resolve the issue of the penalty in an amicable manner, the statements attributed to officials of both countries smacked of hypocrisy.

John Bray, U.S. consul general, and Laura Beaufils, British deputy high commissioner to Nigeria, had last week said the issues faced by MTN in recent times sent bad signals to foreign investors.

According to Punch newspaper, the U.S. and UK envoys made the assertion on the sidelines of a conference organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) during the 2018 Lagos International Trade Fair. The newspaper quoted the envoys as saying some foreign investors took their investments to neighbouring countries as a result of the crisis.

But PAF said in its statement on Sunday that the statements were not objective.

“By their highly prejudicial comments, both envoys have given the misleading impression that the British and American governments would condoned the violations of extant financial regulations in order not to discourage investors,” the statement said.

“As far as both envoys are concerned, while financial regulations are strictly enforced in advanced capitalist countries, even if the heavens would fall, they should be conveniently breached in a peripheral capitalist country like Nigeria.

“It is curious to note that both envoys neither commented on the penalties imposed on Nigerian banks for their involvement in the illegal capital exportation nor dismissed the alleged breaches of Nigeria’s financial regulations by MTN.”

Citing numerous cases of such regulatory actions in both countries, Mr Falana said it is doubtful if both envoys are not aware that the regulatory agencies in Western countries including the UK and U.S. have, in the last 9 years, imposed penalties of over $113 billion on banks and other corporate bodies for committing money laundering offences and for violating financial regulations.

“In view of the patronizing intervention of the UK and US in the MTN $8.1 billion fine we are compelled to draw attention of the Nigerian people to the fines and penalties imposed by the UK and US Financial Regulators from 2009-2018,” it said.

The statement listed the Libor rigging scandal and fines of post-2008 financial crisis; the case involving Barclays which involved a total fine $2.4 billion in addition to eight additional employees fired for their roles in forex manipulation; the cases of Citi, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of America.

The statement also made reference to the case of JPMorgan Chase and four other banks fined a total $26 billion when the banks were accused of participating in the practice of robo-signing, among other stiff penalties associated with breach of regulatory measures in both countries.

The Central Bank of Nigeria had in August sanctioned MTN Nigeria and four commercial banks for alleged financial infractions.

The CBN demanded a refund of about $8.13 billion (about N2.5 trillion at N306.15 to a dollar) allegedly repatriated illegally out of Nigeria through four banks, including Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic-IBTC, Citibank and Diamond Bank.

The banks were also ordered to refund various amounts totaling N5.87 billion.

While Standard Chartered was asked to refund N2.5 billion, Stanbic IBTC was to refund N1.9 billion; Citibank, N1.3 billion; and Diamond Bank was asked to refund N250 million.

The banks were accused of committing “flagrant violation of extant laws and regulations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1995 and the Foreign Exchange Manual, 2006.”

The apex bank and the telecoms giant said they are negotiating possible mutual resolution of the crisis.

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