In a significant ruling, the Lagos State Division of Tax Appeal Tribunal has ordered MTN Nigeria Communications to pay a hefty fine of $72,551,059 for tax defaults spanning a decade from 2007 to 2017.
The verdict, delivered by a distinguished five-man panel led by Professor A. B. Hamed, has sent shockwaves through the telecommunications industry.
This judgment comes following an appeal, numbered TAT/LZ/VAT/075, initiated by MTN Nigeria in response to the Federal Inland Revenue Services’ (FIRS) demand for the outstanding tax.
The case revolves around a report issued by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation in May 2018, which covered the company’s Forms A and M transactions for the 2007-2017 accounting years.
The OAGF adjusted the alleged outstanding tax to an eye-watering N242.2 billion.
After a series of negotiations and meetings with the FIRS, in July 2021, the agency slapped MTN with a staggering VAT assessment of $93,590,366 million, consisting of $72,551,059 as the principal liability and $21,039,807 for penalties and interest.
MTN raised objections to this assessment, which resulted in a revised assessment of $135,697,755.
The tribunal had to address several critical issues, including whether certain provisions qualified as taxable supplies of goods and services and whether the FIRS had the authority to conduct a tax investigation beyond the usual five-year limit.
In a twist, the tribunal ruled in favor of the FIRS on issues one to four, ordering MTN to pay the assessed liabilities accordingly.
However, it dealt a blow to the tax agency by setting aside issue five in relation to penalties and interest, giving MTN a reprieve from additional financial burdens.
This verdict marks a significant development in the ongoing battle between major corporations and tax authorities.
MTN, while facing a substantial tax bill, has successfully averted significant penalties and interest, a move that has raised questions about the fairness of tax assessments and the power of tax agencies.
The telecommunications giant’s legal battle continues, with implications for other companies navigating Nigeria’s complex tax landscape.
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