A Federal High Court in Lagos, yesterday January 12th 2016, ordered parties to maintain status quo, following a ‘mareva’ injunction by the Attorney General of the Federation, seeking to bar MTN Nigeria from emptying its accounts in 21 commercial banks in Nigeria.
The Trial Judge, Idris Mohammed ordered both parties to maintain status quo and adjourned the suit till January 22, 2016 for hearing.
“An order is hereby made directing the parties cited herein to maintain the status quo ante bellum pending further hearing,” the judge said.
The AGF, also sought “an order of mareva injunction restraining the aforementioned banks from releasing further funds, making sale, transfer or payment of any monies or dealing in any manner whatsoever with any and all monies maintained by the plaintiff/respondent (MTN) or its agents, privies, subsidiaries, sister companies or the like in the afore-stated banks that will alter, decline or reduce the amount of the first defendant’s/applicant’s fine against the plaintiff/respondent in the sum of N1,040,000,000,000 which has remained wholly unsatisfied, pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
This application was to prevent MTN from suspending the payment of the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, over its failure to deactivate its unregistered subscribers.
Even though the court did not expressly grant the application, it has, meanwhile by the status quo order, prevented MTN from moving funds from the accounts in the 21 commercial banks in Nigeria outside the country.
The AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who filed the application, yesterday, had expressed the fear that MTN could move all its funds out of the country before the N1.04tn fine was enforced.
He therefore prayed the court to order all the 21 banks to open a special interest-yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court and move N1.04 trillion out of whatever funds that was standing to MTN’s credit in their possession.
He also averred that MTN was under an obligation to pay the N1.04 trillion fine, because it was NCC’s administrative decision, which remained final unless it was reviewed by the commission or nullified by the court, adding that though NCC had earlier given MTN a concession on the fine and reduced it to N780 billion, MTN has neglected or failed to pay on or before December 31, 2015, the fine remained N1.04 trillion.
Justice Mohammed had noted that the AGF had not shown enough facts to prove that MTN was about to empty its bank accounts and move its funds out of the country.
Idris, who said the case was a sensitive one and of public interest, said he would rather hear the case filed by MTN to challenge the fine and give a judgment within a short time.