French Telecommunication giant is ditching its business in Niger after being in dispute with the government over taxes worth about $38 million and unfavourable economic conditions. Orange will be leaving the West African country after 10 years of activity, 2.4 million customers and generating 86 million euros of turnover.
In 2018, the Nigerienne General Tax Directorate issued tax demands to Orange and Airtel worth XOF22 billion (US$38.4 million) and XOF62 billion (US$107 million) respectively, leading to a shutdown of offices. Unfortunately, there was no news about MOOV been issued the same tax or maybe the telco decided to pay quietly.
By January 2019 it was reported that Orange and Airtel had reached agreements on payments and their offices reopened. Two months later it was reported that Orange has decided to pull out of the country.
A report in Africa Confidential named two potential buyers of the Orange subsidiary as Telecel Global and local businessman Mohamed Rissa Ali. Telecel Global founded in 2007 through the merger of NFS, the holding company of Telecel and what was Exxon Telecom. The company has offices in South Africa and the Central African Republic and its Managing Partners are Nicolas Bourg and Laurent Foucher and its CEO is Mohamed Dawish. It would be recalled that in 2017 they revealed that they would be raising about US$100 million and would invest in four to five African countries.
In terms of Telecel Global, the Financial Intelligence Authority concluded:” The Financial Intelligence Authority has not been able to obtain the company’s financial records to facilitate the assessment of its financial strength. However, we have not received any adverse reports on Telecel Global indicating possible involvement in money laundering or terrorist financing activities”.
The other potential buyer is local businessman Mohamed Rissa Al, the owner of Rimbo Holdings, a bus transportation company. He was the original local investor when Orange first entered the country. Rissa Al has been hit by several fraud allegations. In 2012, he was hit with allegations of customs fraud. He declared a good as intended for re-export, which exempts the importer from payment of customs duties and various other taxes but after the goods were found in the Nigerian market. According to a local expert, the repayment is the biggest method of fraud and annually causes the state a loss of several tens of billions of CFA francs. According to a 2016 Le Monde report, his name was at the heart of another financial scandal:”‘Rimbo’ was arrested with 10 billion CFA francs in foreign currency. But without investigation by the authorities, the money was returned to him and his accomplices in the summer of 2015″. This was condemned at the time by the national union of customs officers.
However, from all indications, Zamani Com of the Nigerien businessman Mohamed Rhissa said “Rimbo”, associated with the Malian Moctar Thiam, will buy all the shares of Orange Niger and will resume its operating license. But the government did not reveal the amount of the transaction, nor its timing.