October 17, 2018 / 3:57 PM / a month ago

Nigeria central bank, MTN getting closer to settlement -minister

LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Nigeria's central bank and South African telecommunications firm MTN could soon strike a deal in their dispute over the repatriation of $8.1 billion, Nigeria's information minister said on Wednesday.

The central bank says MTN transferred $8.1 billion of funds out of Nigeria in breach of foreign-exchange regulations. Nigeria, which accounts for a third of the South African company's annual core profit, is MTN's biggest market. "I am sure there will be a settlement and I believe they are getting closer to resolving it," Information Minister Lai Mohammed told Reuters during a visit to London.

"They are 'businessmen' and they are going to resolve it... it is in the interest of all the parties that this matter will be resolved," he said, declining to give any further details.

MTN's shares have lost a fifth of their value since the Nigerian central bank ordered the firm and the four banks involved - Standard Chartered PLC, Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC Citibank and Diamond Bank PLC - to bring back the funds on Aug. 29. Governor Godwin Emefiele said earlier this month that the central bank may reduce the amount.

DANGOTE REFINERY ON SCHEDULE

In other news, Mohammed said he expected production at a huge oil refinery being built in Nigeria by Africa's richest man to start as scheduled around 2020.

Sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters in August that it was unlikely that the 650,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery would start production before 2022.

Billionaire Aliko Dangote secured more than $4.5 billion in debt financing for the project which has a price tag of up to $14 billion.

"When one looks at the money which has been raised from private funds, banks, it can’t afford to miss the deadline and it's working (round) the clock to ensure that the refinery becomes operational in 2020 or thereabouts," Mohammed said.

Asked whether his government might consider privatising part of Nigeria's state oil firm NNPC, Mohammed said such a step was "not a priority".

Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and the main opposition candidate for the February 2019 presidential election, had said he would privatise parts of the state oil company if he was elected head of state. (Editing by Susan Fenton)

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