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The High Court in Lagos, Nigeria, has dismissed an application by Bharti Airtel to set aside an award made by an international commercial arbitration tribunal in favour of Econet Wireless. The judgement paves the 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 Econet Wireless. In Court papers, Econet said that it is submitting a claim valued in excess of $3bn.
The international tribunal (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 Econet (in an amount to be determined in a further round of the arbitration). The ruling said that the purchase of a 65% shareholding in Nigeria's second largest cell phone company, by Celtel, was violated the pre-emption rights of existing shareholder, Econet Wireless. Celtel’s parent company, Zain of Kuwait later sold the controlling stake to Bharti Airtel, the Indian telecoms operator. The international tribunal’s award was handed down in December last year.
In an extensive judgment, the Lagos High Court found that the International Tribunal had been correctly constituted, had jurisdiction and had acted correctly on all accounts.