Nigeria dispute with Bharti Airtel

Statement issued on behalf of Econet Wireless

Press Statement - 31 January 2012

Further to our statement issued on the morning of 30th January 2012, in which we announced that Econet Wireless was issued a judgment in its favour by the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Econet Wireless would like to offer the following update:

The judgment of the Federal High Court of Nigeria was issued on the morning of 24th January 2012. The Judge, Hon Schaib, read the ruling out in an open court, in the attendance of lawyers and representatives of the applicant and defendants. All were present as required by the law, having been duly notified in advance that the judge would be handing down judgement in the matter.

No written copy of the judgment was released by the judge, but he promised to have the full written copy, published within two weeks. It is our intention to publish the full copy of the judgement on our website and in the media in order that everyone can see the matters for determination and ascertain for themselves, the prospects of success of any appeal, as the case may be.

Meanwhile, following the judgement, lawyers for the defendant, now Bharti Airtel, immediately rushed to file a 'Notice of Appeal' as well as separately an 'Application for stay of execution, of Execution of The judgement' pending an appeal hearing and determination. This is their prerogative, which we respect.

In the 'Application for a stay', Bharti Airtel, through their lawyers have given a detailed outline of what they consider to be the potential impact of this ruling. This document is a public document and may be obtained from the Nigerian courts. However for ease of reference, Econet Wireless hereby publishes the full document from Bharti Airtel Nigeria, as it was served on our lawyers, on Friday evening, and brought to our attention yesterday. Your attention is drawn most specifically, to the grounds of Bharti's Appeal and what they perceive to be the impact of the judgment. Econet Wireless has also noted the statement, issued by Bharti to the media addressing the same issue.

Commenting on the decision, Econet Wireless Group Chairman - Mr Strive Masiyiwa said:

“It is universally accepted throughout the world, that when shares in a company are allotted and share certificates issued, as confirmation of ownership, this is sacrosanct.

“In October 2003, Econet Wireless Ltd received a letter from the chairman of the company - Mr Oba Otudeko, in which he advised that at a board meeting directors had decided that Econet Wireless was no longer a shareholder, Econet’s share certificate had been cancelled, and Econet’s name removed from the shareholder register. The motive for this unprecedented action was the circumvention of Econet Wireless' rights as a shareholder in order to facilitate the sale of shares, first to Celtel International, and later to Bharti Airtel.

“As a result of these actions, Econet Wireless was left with no option but to seek redress through the courts. An application was filed in the Nigerian Federal High Court in October 2003, more than eight years ago. Since then, every legal avenue to delay the process was pursued by the defendants  through their lawyers, in order to  frustrate Econet Wireless.

“I am very disappointed that whilst it was clear to Celtel, Zain and Bharti-Airtel that Econet Wireless was a shareholder, they still chose to pursue a path, in which the end justified the means. It is clear even to those with the most basic understanding of company law that the board of a company has no power in any jurisdiction to simply cancel the shares of a shareholder but their desire to own the company was so great that they were prepared to overlook the facts and ignore our rights

“The substance of this ruling, which was known by Celtel and then Bharti, was a matter of record in the legal documents of the company. It is also common cause to even the casual reader that the order given has far-reaching consequences on the current ownership status of the company.

We have made it clear to the company, that as a shareholder, we would like to ensure that all actions that must be taken to comply with the court order are undertaken in such a way that there is minimal disruption to the ongoing operations of the company.

“The board of Econet Wireless and I remain willing to sit down with Bharti-Airtel, to review the best way forward for all parties. In the meantime, we have a fiduciary responsibility to take all of the necessary steps to vigorously protect the interests of our shareholders.”

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