FILE PHOTO: Vehicles drive past an advertising billboard for MTN telecommunication company along a street in Abuja

MTN says Nigeria's attorney general exceeded powers in $2 bln tax bill

By Didi Akinyelure and Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's attorney general exceeded his powers in demanding $2 billion in taxes and charges from MTN Group, the telecoms firm said in papers filed with Nigeria's High Court and reviewed by Reuters.

The papers, filed on Monday in a move by the Nigerian arm of the South African firm aimed at potecting its assets, also showed MTN was seeking 3 billion naira ($10 million) from the West African country in court and legal expenses.

Earlier this month, the Nigerian government handed Africa's biggest telecoms company a $2 billion tax bill days after the central bank, in a separate move, ordered MTN's Lagos unit to hand over $8.1 billion that it said was illegally sent abroad.

Nigeria, which accounts for a third of MTN's annual core profit, is MTN's biggest market. Some analysts see politics as a factor in the pressure on MTN as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in 2015 on promises to push through tougher regulation, is seeking re-election in 2019.

"The attorney-general of the federation (of Nigeria) acted illegally, unconstitutionally, and in excess of his powers" by implementing charges in a "self-assessment exercise" that related to customs, the inland revenue and import duties, the court documents state.

The attorney general's spokesman did not immediately respond to phone calls and a text message requesting a comment.

($1 = 304.2500 naira)

(Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha and Camillus Eboh in Abuja, and Paul Carsten in Kano; Editing by Mark Potter)

2018-09-11 16:09:22

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