By Omoh Gabriel
MINISTER of Industry, Trade and Investment,Dr.Okechukwu Enelamah yesterday denied any involvement or knowledge of illegal transfer of funds out of Nigeria by MTN. The Minister in a statement signed by the Director Press, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment Mr. Greyne Anosike said that the minister was never the owner of the company he is being alleged to own stating that Dr Enelamah was never the “owner” of Celtelecom as alleged by the Senator; neither was he ever a Celtelecom shareholder.
Senator Dino Melaye had in a motion on the floor of the Senate alleged that MTN illegally transferred $13.9 billion out of Nigeria with the help of the minister. The motion was proposed to launch an investigation into the said illegal transfer of funds from Nigeria by MTN.
But the Minister in the statement said, “our attention has been drawn to a statement credited to a serving Nigerian Senator on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday September 27, 2016, making a number of allegations against the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah regarding improper remittance of funds out of Nigeria.
“We are compelled to make clear the following: Dr. Enelamah served as the CEO of Capital Alliance Nigeria Limited (CANL) between 1998 and 2015. CANL is a wholly owned subsidiary of African Capital Alliance (“ACA”), an Africa focused private equity firm with investments in carefully selected companies within and outside Nigeria, including MTN Nigeria.
“A fund managed by ACA, alongside other minority shareholders, invested in MTN Nigeria through Celtelecom. Dr Enelamah was never the “owner” of Celtelecom as alleged by the Senator; neither was he ever a Celtelecom shareholder. Instead he was a director of the company, representing the ACA managed fund.
“Investors do not have responsibility for remittance of proceeds from the company they invest in. Therefore, at no time was Dr. Enelamah in a position to transfer funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria, and at no time did Dr. Enelamah transfer any funds out of Nigeria on behalf of MTN Nigeria.
Celtelecom’s investment in MTN Nigeria
“As it relates to Celtelecom’s investment in MTN Nigeria, it is important to note that the entire process for applying for and using CCIs was done by MTN Nigeria. Dr Enelamah resigned all his board positions, including from ACA and Celtelecom, consequent to his appointment as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. “
“While Dr. Enelamah welcomes
any investigations the Senate may decide to carry out on the activities of these companies, it should be noted that all the allegations as made by the Senator are without merit and baseless.
It will be recalled that MTN on Wednesday denied allegations that it illegally repatriated $13.92 billion from Nigeria. The Senate agreed on Tuesday to investigate whether the telecoms company illegally transferred the money out of Nigeria between 2006 and 2016.
“The allegations made against MTN are completely unfounded and without any merit,” MTN Nigeria Chief Executive Ferdi Moolman said in a statement..
The allegations first appeared in a motion proposed by Senator Dino Melaye to launch an investigation into MTN’’s illegal transfer of $13.92 billion
The Senate motion said Stanbic IBTC, Standard Chartered Bank, Citigroup and Diamond Bank were involved in the alleged illegal transfers, while Trade and Investment Minister Okechukwu Enelamah was among people used by MTN to help repatriate the funds.
Citi and Diamond Bank declined to comment, a spokesman for Stanbic was unavailable and Standard Chartered said it would cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies.
The Senate move is likely to raise tensions between Nigeria and MTN just three months after the firm agreed to pay a reduced fine of N330 billion to end a long-running dispute over unregistered SIM cards.
MTN is the largest mobile phone firm in Nigeria, and accounts for a third of MTN’s revenue. The company had threatened to pull out during the SIM card row, before the fine was reduced by nearly 70 percent.
Clement Nwankwo, director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, a think-tank in Abuja, said the Senate move might stem from a power struggle between the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari’s office over how MTN’s fine was cut. “Presidency officials negotiated to reduce the fine and the committees of the National Assembly were upset,” Nwankwo said.
In June, following the SIM card fine settlement, National Assembly said it would investigate the legality of the deal. The crux of the allegation in the motion is that MTN’s bankers did not inform the central bank in time when the company brought in hard currency five to seven years ago. This meant MTN did not have certificates showing it had brought the money in so it could repatriate funds earned at its Nigerian business.
The motion alleged that the banks then issued certificates of capital importation worth a total of $13.92 billion subsequently – but without central bank approval – so the South African firm could repatriate the hard currency.
The bankers were in “strict violation” of Nigeria’s foreign exchange laws, the motion said, calling for an investigation as such practices were not healthy for a country struggling to come out of an economic downturn.