The most lucrative subsidiary, in Nigeria, MTN Group, has been fined $5.2 billion for failing to disconnect millions of unregistered cellphone subscribers.
The Nigerian Communications Commission confirmed the penalty based on 200,000 naira ($1,000) for each of 5.1 million cellphone SIM cards that had not been registered and should have been disconnected by an August deadline.
On Aug. 7, the commission issued an ultimatum ordering all cellphone providers to de-activate unregistered cards within seven days "or face severe sanctions." All the other cellphone companies in Nigeria complied, the commission said.
The South African company said in a statement Monday that it is in talks with Nigeria's regulatory body "to resolve the matter."
The $5.2 billion fine is equivalent to at least two average years' profit for MTN Nigeria and nearly three times the $1.8 billion that it has invested in the West African country, according to the company's website. Africa's leading cellphone service provider, MTN paid $285 million for one of four GSM licenses in Nigeria in 2001.
Before the cut, MTN said it had about 62 million customers among Nigeria's 170 million people in September, by far the group's biggest market.
Nigeria has about 150 million active mobile phone lines, 90 million mobile Internet users and imports 4 million cellphones each month, according to Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Communications.