Banque Saudi Cites ‘Financial Risks’ for Sale of Syrian Bank

Banque Saudi Fransi, a Saudi lender part-owned by Credit Agricole SA, will sell its 27 percent stake in Bemo Saudi Fransi Syria and its 10 percent share capital in Bemo Lebanon.

“The financial risks in the Arab Republic of Syria do not permit Banque Saudi Fransi to continue as partner,” the Riyadh-based lender said in the statement on the Saudi bourse website today. The bank “is no longer represented in the board of directors of Bemo Saudi Fransi Syria and Bemo Lebanon,” it said.

The government of President Bashar Al-Assad is under increasing international pressure to end an eight-month crackdown against protesters in line with pledges made to the Arab League. Nine people were killed by security forces today, al-Arabiya television reported, citing the General Authority for the Syrian Revolution. The United Nations estimates that at least 3,500 people have been killed.

Syria may face sanctions from Arab League countries after missing a deadline to allow monitors from the bloc to enter the country. Sanctions may include the freezing of government assets, an embargo on dealings with the Central Bank of Syria and a ban on flights to and from the country if it refused to sign the agreement, the league said.

The 22-member body rejected Syrian requests to negotiate the terms of the deal, which was agreed on Nov. 2. The original deadline was Nov. 19.

‘Bashar’s Problem’

“Bashar’s problem now is that a lot of Syria’s private sector is built on investments from the GCC countries,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in response to e-mailed questions. “Investors from those countries see the writing on the wall: better get out now while there is a chance.”

A planned auction for a mobile phone license was abandoned this year after unrest spread and companies including Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat Telecommunications Corp. and Turkey’s Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS pulled out. Syria had encouraged private industry and foreign investment in its state-dominated economy to provide long-term financing for development and economic reforms.

Qatari Investment

In April, Qatar International Islamic Bank won the approval of the Syrian government to increase its stake in its Syrian unit to 41 percent, Syria’s SANA news service reported. QIIB currently holds 30 percent in the Syria International Islamic Bank. Qatar National Bank SAQ, the Persian Gulf country’s biggest bank by assets, said in July 2010 that it planned to add to its branch network in Syria.

Syria’s $60 billion economy, which expanded 5.5 percent in 2010, may shrink 2 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, or at least 5 percent according to the Institute of International Finance. The government expects growth of 1 percent, Finance Minister Mohammad Al-Jleilati said in September.

The United Arab Emirates also told its nationals to leave Syria because of “tensions” there caused by political unrest, the state-run WAM news agency said, citing a foreign ministry official. Saudi Arabia called on Bashar to uphold commitments made to the Arab League to end violence and killings, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Nov. 21.

League Suspension

The Arab League suspended Syria, a founding member, for its handling of the unrest. It was the boldest action by the organization since its condemnation of Muammar Qaddafi’s repression of protests paved the way for the United Nations resolution in March authorizing a North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign.

The UN has been paralyzed over Syria since Oct. 4, when Russia and China blocked a Security Council resolution calling on Assad to halt the crackdown. The U.S. and the European Union have already imposed sanctions targeting Syrian companies and senior officials.

Any outside use of force in Syria is “unacceptable,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on state television yesterday. Countries shouldn’t use human rights issues as an excuse to intervene in the Middle Eastern country, he said.

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