DUBAI (Reuters) - An Abu Dhabi bank has filed a legal claim against Dubai’s Zabeel Investments, according to court papers seen by Reuters, the second time in a month a creditor has resorted to the courts to recover debt from a company owned by the emirates top royals.
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB.AD) (ADCB) filed the case on September 19, claiming 66.03 million pounds from Zabeel, owned by the crown prince of Dubai, saying it failed to meet repayment obligations.
“It’s about time. People can’t let things linger like this, a decision regarding the debt and restructuring had to be made,” said a source familiar with the matter.
Zabeel, which has hospitality, property and private equity assets, owes approximately 6 billion dirhams ($1.6 billion) to mostly local banks. Talks on restructuring the debt ground to a halt in January.
The Gulf emirate was hard hit by a 2009 debt crisis triggered by conglomerate Dubai World’s DBWLD.UL request to delay repaying $26 billion in debt. It reached an agreement in 2011 with banks to extend debt maturities and promising repayment mostly through asset sales.
“Dubai World... was three years ago. I think patience is running out among lenders,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, managing director of Abu Dhabi Financial Services. “There have been many years of negotiations and promises since Dubai World and it has to end.
“Things are getting to a deadlock now, with companies saying this is the best they can do and banks saying it’s not good enough.”
The case is the latest legal step taken against a Dubai entity after three foreign banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), filed proceedings against Dubai Group, an investment vehicle owned by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, earlier this month.
State-owned Dubai Real Estate Corp. (DREC) has taken over management of Zabeel and will lead fresh debt discussions, three sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
Officials at DREC, which owns the biggest land bank in Dubai, were not immediately available for comment. Telephone calls to Zabeel’s office were not answered.
Most of Zabeel’s staff were asked to leave while others are being shifted to DREC, the sources said.
Zabeel, owned by Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum and which once had stakes in Sony Corp (6758.T) and planemaker EADS EAD.PA, has offloaded assets, including businesses in Las Vegas. Formed in 2006, Zabeel owns the lavish Zabeel Saray hotel on Dubai’s man-made Palm Jumeirah island.
Despite its high-profile ownership, Zabeel — which received two loans in 2009 from the Dubai Financial Support Fund (DFSF), including one to help meet a coupon payment — was not allocated more funds by the DFSF to tackle the debt, mostly bilateral loans owed mainly to local banks.
Zabeel’s local creditors include ADCB, Commercial Bank International CBI.AD, Commercial Bank of Dubai CBD.DU and Emirates NBD (ENBD.DU).
“There are not many assets which are generating any cash,” a second source with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.
Like many Gulf investment firms, Zabeel was hit hard by the global economic downturn in 2008 and it has not fully recovered, despite selling assets and pulling back on many of its investments.
It was not clear whether DREC’s management of Zabeel’s assets might revitalise the debt restructuring talks with banks.
Helped by an economic revival in trade and tourism and its safe-haven status amid the Arab Spring civil uprisings, Dubai is recovering from the depths of its debt crisis.
Over the past year, Dubai has pushed for solutions to debt problems at some of its other state-linked companies. Dubai International Capital DUBAHP.UL reached an agreement with banks earlier this year to reschedule $2.4 billion of debt, and Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group DUBAHC.UL agreed on a $555 million rescheduling last December.
Additional reporting by David French; Editing by Amran Abocar and Mike Nesbit