South African mobile phone operator, MTN Group, withdrew its lawsuit against Nigeria’s regulator over a 3.9 billion dollars fine and paid 250 million dollars toward a possible settlement.

A judge in Lagos last month gave both parties until March 18 to reach a settlement.

The settlement was opted for after MTN had asked the court to arbitrate over the dispute, saying the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had no legal grounds to order the fine.

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MTN said it would withdraw its court challenge in an effort to reach an amicable settlement and make a “good faith payment” of 250 million dollars toward a possible settlement.

The group makes most of its sales in Nigeria,

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“This is a sign that the fine could be reduced much further.

“There is some sort of negotiation taking place and the parties are migrating toward a common ground,” said Dobek Pater, Managing Director of Africa Analysis.

The original penalty was based on fining the company 1,000 dollars for every unregistered SIM card in use.

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Shares in MTN, which are down about a third since the fine was first announced in October, rose 1.3 per cent to 129.53 rand (8.34 dollars).

Nigeria has been trying to halt the widespread use of unregistered SIM cards amid worries they are being used for criminal activity, including by the Islamist group, Boko Haram. (Reuters/NAN