Econet wins Nigeria case

HARARE - A Lagos High Court on Thursday dismissed Bharti Airtel application to set aside an award made in favour of Econet Wireless Limited (EWL) by an international commercial arbitration tribunal.

Bharti Airtel had sort to prevent the tribunal from assessing a $3,1 billion claim by EWL, being the amount equitable as compensation and damages.

In its judgment, the court found the international tribunal had been correctly constituted, had jurisdiction and acted correctly on all accounts.

The judgment paves way for the matter to be referred back to the international tribunal to set the quantum of damages and compensation that Bharti must pay to EWL.

The panel (comprising senior Nigerian and English lawyers) found multiple breaches of a shareholders’ agreement by both the selling shareholders and Celtel Nigeria, now Bharti Airtel Nigeria, ordering them to pay damages/equitable compensation to EWL (in an amount to be determined in a further round of the arbitration).

The award was handed down in December last year.

The long-running dispute arises from Airtel’s 65 percent acquisition of Zain Africa’s stake in the Lagos-based venture in 2010 and where EWL had pre-emptive rights.

Earlier this year, Federal High Court of Nigeria ruled Bharti Airtel’s ownership of its subsidiary BANL was “null and void” because co-founder and five percent shareholders EWL had not been consulted on the transfer.

“The court ordered that all actions, and resolutions taken by the company, since October 2003, at which EWL was entitled to be notified, and to participate in, as a shareholder, but was prohibited, are null and void. This includes decisions to sell shares, issue shares, and also transfer shares to third parties,” the judgment read.

The court also ordered the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission to cancel any certificate previously issued for the company name change and restore it to Econet Wireless Nigeria Limited.

Bharti Airtel inherited the legal case as part of a $9 billion acquisition of Zain’s Africa operations in 2010.

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