A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Tuesday, ordered parties to maintain status quo, following a mareva injunction by the Attorney General of the Federation, seeking to bar MTN Nigeria from emptying its accounts in 21 commercial banks in Nigeria. Trial judge, Justice Idris Mohammed, ordered parties to maintain status quo ante bellum pending the determination of the suit and adjourned till January 22, 2016 for hearing. “An order is hereby made directing the parties cited herein to maintain the status quo ante bellum pending further hearing,” the judge said. The AGF, has sought “an order of mareva injunction restraining the aforementioned banks from releasing, further releasing any funds, making sale, transfer or payment of any monies or dealing in any manner whatsoever with any and all monies maintained by the plaintiff/respondent (MTN) or its agents, privies, subsidiaries, sister companies or the like in the aforestated banks that will alter, decline or reduce the amount of the first defendant’s/applicant’s fine against the plaintiff/respondent in the sum of N1,040,000,000,000 which has remained wholly unsatisfied, pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
The application was to prevent MTN from suspending the payment of the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, over its failure to deactivate its unregistered subscribers. Even though the court did not expressly grant the application, it has, meanwhile by the status quo order, prevented MTN from moving funds from the accounts in the 21 commercial banks in Nigeria outside the country. The AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who filed the application, yesterday, had expressed the fear that MTN could move all its funds out of the country before the N1.04tn fine could be enforced. He had prayed the court to order all the 21 banks to open a special interest-yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court and move N1.04 trillion out of whatever funds that was standing to MTN’s credit in their possession.
The counsel for the AGF, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi, SAN, in a 14-paragraph affidavit in support of the application, had averred that MTN was in the habit of regularly repatriating its funds out of Nigeria. He further averred that between October 2007 and May 2009, a period of 19 months, MTN moved over $7.7 billion of the money made in Nigeria to a foreign account, pointing the court’s attention to an instance when in one day, specifically on February 8, 2008, MTN transferred over $936 million out of Nigeria to accounts in Mauritius, Cayman Island and British Virgin Islands. “Unless this court urgently entertains this application, the plaintiff/respondent would move its funds out of Nigeria, being the jurisdiction of this honourable court, and thereby frustrate the enforcement of the fine in the likely event that this honourable court sanctions the imposition of the fine,” he had averred.
He also averred that MTN was under an obligation to pay the N1.04 trillion fine, because it was NCC’s administrative decision, which remained final unless it was reviewed by the commission or nullified by the court, adding that though NCC had earlier given MTN a concession on the fine and reduced it to N780 billion, MTN has neglected or failed to pay on or before December 31, 2015, the fine remained N1.04 trillion. Justice Mohammed had noted that the AGF had not shown enough facts to prove that MTN was about to empty its bank accounts and move its funds out of the country. Idris, who noted that the case was sensitive and of public interest, said he would rather hear the case filed by MTN to challenge the fine and give a judgment within a short time.