MTN is said to be nearing Nigeria deal over $8.1 billion claim

The MTN Group [JSE:MTN] is close to securing a deal with Nigeria’s central bank over an order to repay $8.1bn it is alleged to have illegally taken out of the country, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A settlement is expected by Monday and could come as early as Friday, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorised to comment publicly. The Central Bank of Nigeria will on Friday meet the four banks accused of facilitating the transfers - Standard Chartered, Citigroup, Stanbic IBTC and Diamond Bank - and that Lagos meeting could end the saga, the person said.

MTN, Citibank, Standard Chartered and Stanbic IBTC declined to comment. A spokesman for Nigeria’s central bank and representatives from Diamond Bank didn’t answer calls seeking confirmation after regular business hours.

An end to the dispute would come as a relief for MTN, Africa’s largest wireless carrier by subscribers. The Johannesburg-based company has lost almost a fifth of its market value since Nigerian authorities said in late August that it needed to repay the $8.1bn. MTN and the four banks, which have been fined $16 million between them, deny any wrongdoing.

If a deal is reached, MTN will probably dismiss its court case against the central bank and Nigeria’s attorney general, which it brought to stop the transfer order, according to the person. However, the company is also facing a claim that it owes $2bn in back taxes in Nigeria, its biggest market.

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