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Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) has reiterated that MTN must stick to a December 31 deadline to pay a record $3.9bn fine, even after Africa’s largest phone company prepares to try and overturn the penalty in court.

“The deadline remains,” Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) spokesman Tony Ojobo was quoted as saying yesterday. The NCC will consult with lawyers about what to do if the Johannesburg-based company does not pay the fine on Thursday, he said, without providing details on possible actions the regulator may take.

MTN is challenging the penalty in the Federal High Court in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, after it said earlier this month that the NCC did not have the power to impose the fine. The regulator took action after MTN failed to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1-million unregistered subscribers as security agencies seek to fight crime and Islamist militants in a country with poor identity records.

The regulator “will allow” the courts to do their work and the NCC is planning to challenge the MTN dispute filed in Lagos, Mr Ojobo said.

MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng declined to comment beyond a December 17 statement announcing the decision to go to court. The company’s shares have declined 27% since the fine was made public on October 26, valuing the wireless operator at R256bn.

While MTN chairman Phuthuma Nhleko has been leading negotiations with the Nigerian authorities after CEO Sifiso Dabengwa resigned, Mr Ojobo said he was not aware of any talks currently being held between MTN and the West African nation’s regulator and government.

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