Arab Bank Plans Return to Libya After Uprising Forces Exit

Arab Bank Plc. (ARBK), Jordan’s largest lender, is seeking to regain access to its Al Wahda bank unit in Libya after last year’s uprising forced it to exit the country.

“As a result of the events which took place in Libya, we have not been involved in the management of Al Wahda bank since early 2011,” Arab Bank Chairman Sabih Al Masri wrote in an e- mailed response to questions to Bloomberg on Sept. 6. “We hope to be in a position to discuss with the new authorities in Libya how we might reengage our presence in the country.”

Amman-based Arab Bank owns 19 percent of Al Wahda, with more than 70 branches across Libya, and has the right to increase that stake to 51 percent, Al Masri said. He took over management of Arab bank on Aug. 26 after former chairman Abdul Hamid Shoman resigned because of differences with the board.

Former Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi was killed in October after an eight-month uprising that left thousands dead, one of a series of uprisings against Middle Eastern dictators known as the Arab Spring. The country’s new interim legislature elected Mohammed Yussef Magariaf, leader of the National Front Party, as its head last month as the country rebuilds.

The bank is also studying a possible return to Iraq after the nationalization of its branches in 1964, Al Masri said.

“Given the potential of the Iraqi market, it is natural that at some stage we would study the feasibility of reentering,” he wrote. The bank is present in all Arab countries with the exception of Iraq and Kuwait, he said.

Established in Jerusalem

Arab Bank, established in Jerusalem in 1930 and the first public shareholding company on the Amman stock exchange in 1978, posted net income of $360.3 million for the first half, a 10 percent increase compared with the year earlier period, he said.

Arab Bank fell 0.6 percent to 7.15 Jordanian dinars as of 1:05 p.m. in Amman.

Kuwait-based Al-Rai newspaper reported Aug. 23 that unidentified Qatari investors were in talks to buy a 20.7 percent stake in Arab Bank, controlled by Lebanese former prime minister Saad Hariri through Saudi Oger Ltd., Oger Middle East Holding and BankMed SAL. The report prompted the stock to surge the most in three months on the day, gaining 5 percent.

Arab Bank headquarters will remain in Jordan and the lender has no plans to reduce its workforce or change positions, Masri told a news conference in Amman three days later.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mohammad Tayseer in Amman at mtayseer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at dcrofts@bloomberg.net

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