MTN has hired former United States Attorney General Eric Holder to help it challenge the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) over the N3.9 billion fine it imposed on the telecommunication company for failure to register its subscribers.
Mr Holder, corporate law expert with Covington and Burling, visited Abuja last month to plead with senior Nigerian officials on behalf of the South African telecoms group, the FT is reporting.
“His experience as attorney-general in dealing with corporates with a lot of problems was interesting to MTN,” said one person close to the negotiations. The person said the company hoped Mr Holder’s “experience and stature could inject some balance into the equation.”
Holder was the US attorney-general between 2009 and 2015 and presided over some of the biggest corporate settlements in US history such as the $13 billion paid by JPMorgan Chase over the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis and BP’s $18bn fine for the Horizon oil spill.
But so far Nigerian authorities are unfazed by MTN’s negotiations, arguing that the figure was computed strictly according to laws set out in 2011.
“Why would Eric Holder change anything? It looks a little desperate, like they couldn’t find anyone with proximity who is able to influence the president,” one senior Nigerian government official said. “At first there were lots of people who said this was a bad signal for foreign investors but when they looked into it they realised that MTN had really messed up,” the official said.