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Sun 19 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Fly me to the race

The man with the biggest smile in Dubai right now must be the very impressive Sheikh Ahmed, chairman of Emirates Airline.

|~||~||~|The man with the biggest smile in Dubai right now must be the very impressive Sheikh Ahmed, chairman of Emirates Airline. Last Tuesday, just four days before the start of the first Formula One race of the season, Emirates announced a sponsorship deal with Team McLaren Mercedes. The ‘Fly Emirates’ logo will now appear on the Team McLaren Mercedes MP4-21 Formula One cars at all F1 races this Season — as well as on the kits of the team’s star drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Anyone who saw the F1 race last weekend will have realised that the logo is just about the most prominent of any sponsor in F1. And my sources tell me it cost Emirates Airline only around US$12 million — compared to the going rate of US$50 million for such deals.

How did they pull it off? Timing is everything, and with only four days to go before the race McLaren boss Ron Dennis was without a lead sponsor. I am told that Sheikh Ahmed spotted him at a tourism fair in Berlin and thrashed out a very cheap deal which Dennis had no choice but to accept, given he needs the US$12 million for his mid-season testing programme.

To make things even sweeter for Sheikh Ahmed, it means he gets all the F1 publicity he wants without having to spend US$500 million launching his own team, which was to be known as Team Dubai. Ironically (or amusingly, depending which way you look at it), Team Dubai had been planned as a joint venture with — you guessed it, Ron Dennis' Team McLaren.

It’s been a difficult few days for the National Bonds Corporation. Two weeks ago, it unveiled the first national savings bond scheme for the UAE. The scheme, which will be open to UAE nationals, as well as residents of the UAE that are over 16, aims to provide the public with an alternative Shari’a compliant savings opportunity. All good stuff. The NBC’s own website goes on to explain: “The bonds, which will be on sale throughout the UAE from March 18 2006, will be priced at AED10 per bond and available in a minimum purchase of AED100. Whilst providing a safe and reliable savings opportunity, bond holders will also be eligible to win huge cash prizes totalling AED4 million in monthly draws.”

All of which sounds a little like a lottery? It isn’t, of course, though that didn’t stop the confusion in the media. Even the UAE’s own “official news website” uaeinteract.com reported: “The National Bonds will enable small investors to save while participating in the monthly lottery.”

Last week Shari’a Board chairman Dr. Hussein Hamid Hassan was forced to take out a half page advert in Gulf News to explain this scheme had nothing to do with any lottery.

You have to feel a little sorry for Dubai Financial Market-listed company Tabreed. In case you were planning to go to its AGM, don’t bother. Last Wednesday, it made an urgent statement to the DFM, which read: “Tabreed announces its AGM and EGM to be deferred to 20/3/2006 for the lack of quorum.”

In case you’re wondering, that means they couldn’t find enough people to attend the meeting for it to legally take place.

As I exclusively revealed two weeks ago, pop superstar Robbie Williams is to perform in Dubai on April 21st. Well, if you didn’t get tickets for the show, don’t be too despondent. I am told that the singer is furious at the prices touts are charging in Dubai and plans to do what he often does — release around 2000 extra tickets on the day of the concert, leaving the touts holding worthless tickets. Nice one, given that the tickets are now moving for ten times the original price.

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