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Fri 4 May 2012 02:14 PM

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Troubled Islamic lender Faisal Bank up for sale

Switzerland-based Islamic private bank is talking to potential suitors, says CEO

Troubled Islamic lender Faisal Bank up for sale
(Image for illustrative purposes)

Faisal Private Bank, struggling since the collapse of property schemes in the Gulf and beyond, is up for sale after failing to raise enough money to meet the Swiss regulator's minimum capital requirements, its chief executive said on Thursday.

Chief Executive Mark Koch told Reuters the Geneva-based bank, which called itself the first Islamic private bank, is talking to three potential suitors. Faisal's parent, Bahrain-based Ithmaar Bank, will be selling part or all of its stake, he said.

"We have had to seek a new shareholder to take a majority position, and have identified several interested parties over the last five months," Koch told Reuters.

He said the group was in advanced negotiations with two financial institutions from the Gulf and one from Britain.

Faisal Private Bank was one of a group of institutions that initially thrived on up front payments from investors.

It built up a 1.1 billion Swiss franc real estate portfolio by 2009, but hit trouble when prices fell and Swiss accounting rules changed in a way that stopped it paying dividends and collecting fees based on expected future earnings.

Swiss regulator FINMA had given the bank until June to meet the minimal capital requirement of 50 million Swiss francs ($55 million).

But Koch said the bank had struggled to raise funds for that or for his business plan to enter the trade finance business after a promised $60 million injection from Ithmaar did not materialise.

"It hasn't been fun having to turn down business because we were lacking capital," Koch said, adding that the picture looked brighter with expectations of a sale.

Parent Ithmaar, itself a victim of the real estate bust, tried in 2009 to raise up to $500 million, in part to help recapitalise Faisal, but only got $100 million. Bahrain's central bank then blocked Ithmaar from sending funds to Faisal.

The dearth of real estate deals amid the financial crisis also put paid to a business model that allowed executives from Ithmaar, Faisal and other institutions to profit by taking transaction fees from clients up front.

Similar schemes cost investors dear across the region.

Since rumours of the potential Faisal Private Bank sale hit the market early in 2012, shares in Ithmaar have almost tripled to 0.2 Bahraini dinars, although they remain well shy of their 2008 high of 0.727 dinars.

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