Top Bangladesh cellphone company pays USD117M in legal tussle

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (AP) – Bangladesh’s leading cellphone operator paid USD117 million to the country’s telecommunication regulator on Sunday amid a protracted legal tussle with the government that could result in the loss of its licence to operate in one of the world’s fastest-growing mobile markets, officials said.

Zakir Hossain Khan, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said by phone that Grameenphone, a subsidiary of the Norwegian telecommunication giant Telenor, handed over the documents for clearing the payment of USD117 million as per the directive of the country’s Supreme Court.

The commission accused Grameenphone of evading spectrum fees and value-added taxes, but the operator has insisted that the government’s audit is flawed. The first payment on Sunday was against the regulatory commission’s audit claim of about USD1.48 billion in unpaid taxes. But it was not immediately clear how the amount would be adjusted with the total amount stemming from the audit claims.

Sunday’s action by the operator came after the Supreme Court recently asked Grameenphone to pay at least USD237 million by February 23 amid obstacles put by the commission that were hampering the operator’s operations and expansion.

The commission had imposed restrictions on the operator, declining no-objection certificates for imports of network equipment since July, while it also issued show-cause notice for licence cancellation and threatened to appoint an administrator.