February 13, 2018 / 7:46 AM / 6 days ago

UAE banks eye end to $22 billion Saudi debt saga

DUBAI (Reuters) - Banks in the United Arab Emirates are hopeful of recovering some funds in 2018 from the multibillion-dollar collapse of Saudi Arabia’s Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad al-Gosaibi & Bros Co (AHAB) nearly a decade ago, a senior banking official told Reuters.

The two conglomerates defaulted in 2009 in Saudi Arabia’s biggest financial meltdown, leaving international and regional banks and other creditors owed about $22 billion.

After years of legal disputes and only gradual progress, efforts to resolve matters have gathered pace since the establishment of a tribunal in 2016 to deal with financial claims against AHAB and Saad Group.

“We are optimistic that we will get a resolution on this,” Abdulaziz al-Ghurair, chairman of the UAE Banks Federation and chief executive of Dubai-based lender Mashreq, said in an interview.

“We have waited too long. Now there is a young leadership in Saudi Arabia and they want to finish this chapter.”

Most UAE banks owed money had received a final judgment on their claims from UAE courts, which they had submitted for approval by the three-judge tribunal based in Khobar within Saudi’s Eastern Province, he said.

Mashreq, Emirates NBD and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank are the UAE banks with the largest claims against AHAB, according to sources familiar with the process, ranging from 1.25 billion riyals ($333.3 million) for Mashreq to 653.8 million riyals for Abu Dhabi Commercial.

Emirates Islamic Bank, Emirates NBD’s Islamic arm, has a 76 million dirham claim against Saad Group, the sources said.

The banks declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

All the banks had fully provisioned against the debt and any money clawed back will contribute towards bank balance sheets, al-Ghurair said.

Profit growth for the UAE banking sector in 2018 will be about the same as last year’s 6.5 percent, al-Ghurair said.

One potential cloud on the horizon is that problem loans for banks in the region are expected to edge higher in 2018 after sluggish economic activity in 2017, according to forecasts by Moody‘s.

($1 = 3.7502 riyals)

Editing by David Goodman

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