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UPDATE 1-Nigeria backs down in $2 bln dispute with telecoms giant MTN - REUTERS

JANUARY 10, 2020

LAGOS, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s attorney general has withdrawn a $2 billion tax demand against South African telecoms giant MTN Group, a closely watched case that critics said damaged Nigeria’s appeal to foreign investors.

In a letter filed with the Nigerian stock exchange, MTN said the government had decided to drop its case and refer the issue to tax and customs authorities “with a view to resolving contentious issues.”

“We are very pleased with the decision of the (attorney general) and we commend him for his wisdom,” MTN Nigeria’s Chief Executive Ferdi Moolman said in a statement.

Shares in MTN Group rose by more than 4% after the announcement. Nigeria is its biggest market, with roughly 60 million users.

Attorney General Abubakar Malami had ruled that the firm owed taxes relating to the import of equipment and payments to foreign suppliers from 2007 to 2017. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

MTN, whose local unit listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange last year, has said it would sell more shares to the public and increase local ownership once the tax row is resolved.

$1 = 305.9500 naira Reporting by Libby George in Lagos and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru. Additional reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Alex Richardson and Susan Fenton

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