MTN will use dispute resolution over GH¢8.2 billion tax bill if talks fail

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MTN Group plans to start a dispute resolution process if talks with Ghanaian authorities over a surprise GH¢8.2 billion (US$773-million) back-tax bill it received last week fail.

Before starting that process, the company is engaging with authorities to resolve the unexpected bill that came after the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) switched to a new methodology to track call data records based on the advice of a third-party consultant, Group CEO Ralph Mupita said Monday on an investor call.

“The methodology was applied retroactively” and without prior notice, Mupita said. “We strongly dispute this and will defend our position.”

The Ghana Revenue Authority sent the country’s biggest corporate taxpayer a claim for the period between 2014 and 2018 that implied MTN under-declared revenue by 30%.

In a statement on Monday, GRA said MTN Ghana’s audit adhered to “the principles of fairness and transparency”.

The statement also said while MTN has received numerous tax compliance awards in the past, “these do not in any way prejudice the conduct of audits as required by law”.

The GRA gave a 21-day hold back period for MTN to engage the GRA in talks about the tax bill if they so wish. MTN can also apply to the Commissioner-General of GRA to hold off the tax for further interventions, including going to court.

Meanwhile, in Ghana the law gives the Commissioner-General of GRA the discretion to take at least 30 per cent of the stated bill while negotiation and or any form of intervention is on going.

MTN’s row in Ghana is the latest legal and regulatory challenge it is facing in markets around Africa. Nigeria fined MTN $5.2-billion in 2015 for failing to disconnect unregistered phone lines, although the parties later settled for less than the initial bill.

In 2020, the operator successfully challenged a separate $2-billion claim for unpaid taxes by the Nigerian authorities. It’s also faced down authorities in Benin and Cameroon over the terms of its licences.

MTN must pay 30% of the tax bill to trigger a conflict resolution process through Ghanaian courts, unless an appeal to lower the amount is approved, according to Mupita.

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