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Sat 11 Dec 2010 09:53 AM

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Crisis-hit Ireland seeks to lure Gulf business

Irish delegation meets Gulf central bank heads, businessmen, banks and fund managers

Crisis-hit Ireland seeks to lure Gulf business
Wealthy Gulfs sovereign wealth funds have eyed opportunities in crisis-hit euro zone countries (AFP/Getty Images)

Irish officials went on a tour of wealthy Gulf states to talk them into bringing business to recession-hit Ireland and briefed them on the country's troubled bank assets, which the central bank has said are up for sale.

John Bruton, head of Ireland's International Financial Services Centre, led the delegation of financial and central bank officials on a week-long visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, he told Reuters on Friday.

An English language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, The National, cited a UAE sovereign wealth fund executive as saying Irish officials were sounding out Gulf sovereign wealth funds to gauge interest in the country's banks, which have to restructure as part of an 85 billion euro EU/IMF bailout.

Bruton said the purpose of the trip was to attract financial services into Dublin, a key centre for funds administration in Europe, rather than to promote the sale of Ireland's banks.

From Frankfurt on his way back to Ireland, Bruton said: "I was there exclusively to promote international financial services out of Ireland (in) that part of the world. If you go to countries like that, they'll ask you all sorts of questions on budgetary situations ... including this one on assets."

He added: "That was not my purpose in going there, but while I was meeting various people who are in demand of assets, we briefed them generally on the overall Irish assets available, on assets available in NAMA, and in banks and otherwise."

He said he was not representing the government in an official capacity.

NAMA is the National Asset Management Agency, a so-called "bad bank" set up to manage the bank's soured commercial property loans.

Bruton, a former prime minister, said his delegation had met with Gulf central bank governors, heads of businesses, banks and fund managers as well as Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding.

The Saudi firm has minority stakes in some of the world's top companies and recently subscribed $500 million to bailed-out General Motors' initial public offering last month.

The wealthy Gulf's sovereign wealth funds have eyed opportunities in crisis-hit euro zone countries. In September, Greece and Qatar signed a framework deal that paved the way for the cash-rich country to invest in energy and banking sectors.

Greece was the first euro-zone country to seek external assistance.