The High Court of Malawi Civil Division has ruled in favor of Airtel Malawi plc, granting the company a K2 billion fine refund that was imposed by the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC). The court, however, has ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to review evidence for possible criminal charges against the telecommunications company.
The court’s ruling, delivered in Blantyre, upheld Airtel’s objection that it was beyond the CFTC’s mandate to impose a fine on the company. Airtel had challenged the CFTC’s determination, which found the company guilty of unconscionable conduct for modifying the terms of its bonus scheme, known as the Khete-Khete loyalty programme.
The commission had ordered Airtel to pay a K2 billion fine, accusing the company of gaining an advantage over its customers by changing the bonus scheme from automatic crediting to a system where customers had to redeem the bonuses on a set date.
While the court ordered the CFTC to refund the K2,113,099,660 fine, it dismissed the other grounds of appeal and instructed the DPP to review the evidence and consider the possibility of pressing criminal charges against Airtel within 90 days.
Judge Allan Muhome stated that Airtel had a valid contract with its qualifying clients, including entitlement to the bonus scheme. He emphasized that Airtel’s deliberate change of the scheme’s terms caused inconvenience to its customers and gained unfair advantage over them, which the court deemed unconscionable.
The CFTC issued the determination against Airtel on August 27, 2021, ordering the fine payment and a cease-and-desist order from engaging in unconscionable conduct as per the regulations.