Bahrain lender sells Ahli Bank stake to Qatar Foundation

Gulf state's largest listed lender sells 33 percent of Ahli Bank to sovereign fund

Ahli United Bank, Bahrain's largest listed lender, has sold most of its 33 percent stake in Qatar's Ahli Bank to sovereign fund Qatar Foundation.

The sale, involving all but 1,000 of Ahli United's 37.38m shares, still requires the approval of Ahli Bank shareholders, an Ahli Bank filing to the Qatar bourse said on Thursday.

No price was given but the stake would have been worth QAR1.93bn (US$530.2m) at Wednesday's QAR51.70 closing price.

Ahli Bank, Qatar's seventh-largest lender by market value, had said in November its strategic partner would offload its holding and that the proposed sale was being reviewed by the Qatar central bank.

Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation wholly-owned by the Qatar royal family and which focuses on developing the Gulf Arab state's education and science sectors, will now become Ahli Bank's largest shareholder, followed by the Qatar Investment Authority which has a 16.7 percent stake.

The purchase by a Qatari sovereign fund not known for investments in the financial sector could indicate a lack of interest among other commercial banks, a Dubai-based banker said.

"It was always a question of how much control you could exercise with a 30 percent stake. Qatar is already a very over-banked nation and if you don't have majority ownership, there is little you could do there," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Shares in Ahli Bank were up 3.5 percent by 0730 GMT.

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