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MENA news through Dec. 6

* The Council of the European Union adopted a blacklist of tax havens that it deemed uncooperative on tax matters, naming 17 countries and territories including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Tunisia.

* The global sukuk market is set to grow further in 2018 due to a number of factors including rising sovereign issuance and growing demand from retail banks, according to Moody's. Niger, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all plan to take advantage of the asset-based nature of sukuk financing to fund infrastructure development, while the high borrowing needs of Gulf Cooperation Council states are expected to drive an increase in sovereign sukuk issuance.

* A survey of 77 Islamic banks across 22 countries by the World Bank and Bahrain-based General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions found weaknesses in Islamic banks' risk management and Sharia compliance functions, Reuters reported. The report recommended that Islamic banks increase their use of independent directors and bolster the role of their risk management officers.


* Moody's said its outlook for GCC banks is stable overall reflecting strong financial fundamentals, particularly in the largest banking systems, that provide resilience to profitability and loan quality challenges from slower economies. However, the agency noted that fiscal and geopolitical risks continue to pose challenges for various countries, specifically in Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

* Saudi Arabia finished the arrests in its anti-graft probe and is preparing to receive and eventually funnel the settlement payments from high-profile detainees to development projects. Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, the country's minister of commerce and investment, said a special ministry of finance account will hold the settlement funds, which may amount to between $50 billion and $100 billion.

* Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said the bank accounts of 376 individuals arrested as part of the government's crackdown on corruption remain frozen, Hürriyet Daily News reported. Meanwhile, Swiss authorities are reviewing information provided by the country's banks on suspicious transactions made by Saudi nationals. The Swiss attorney general's office said no criminal proceedings have been initiated in connection to the matter.

* Citigroup Inc. named Majed Al-Hassoun head of investment banking for Saudi Arabia, as it prepares to start operations in the country in 2018 following a 13-year absence, The Wall Street Journal wrote.

* The Saudi Stock Exchange, or Tadawul, signed a post-trade technology transformation agreement with Nasdaq. The transformation of Tadawul's post-trade technology infrastructure is expected to complete in the second half of 2020.

* S&P Global Ratings lowered Bahrain's long-term foreign- and local-currency sovereign credit ratings to B+ from BB- with a stable outlook, saying the country's external liquidity has become extremely weak.

* Following the downgrade, the Central Bank of Bahrain said it remains committed to maintaining a fixed exchange rate regime, noting that the policy "has provided a strong anchor for monetary policy throughout the years and helped in creating a stable business environment."

* Al Ahlia Insurance Co. BSC submitted an official request to the Bahraini Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism to change its legal name to Solidarity Bahrain BSC after its merger with Solidarity General Takaful BSC took effect Dec. 3, following approval from the Central Bank of Bahrain. Al Ahlia Insurance also received final approval from the central bank to convert its license to takaful.

* Al Baraka Banking Group BSC, Bahrain Development Bank BSC (c) and Kuwait Finance House (Bahrain) BSC (c) have teamed up to establish Algo Bahrain, a company aimed at developing financial technology products and other Sharia-compliant banking solutions, The National reported. Eight more banks are expected to join the initiative in its second phase.

* Bahrain-based Khaleeji Commercial Bank BSC will start listing its shares on the Dubai Financial Market on Dec. 19. The lender said the number of shares to be cross-listed on the Dubai Financial Market will not exceed 10% of its share capital.

* The Central Bank of Bahrain granted UAE-based Mashreqbank PSC a license to open a wholesale bank branch in Bahrain. The new license allows Mashreqbank to expand its activities as a wholesale bank in Bahrain.

* Qatar International Islamic Bank (QPSC) is looking to issue a dollar-denominated benchmark sukuk in February 2018 that could go up to $700 million in size, insiders told Reuters.

* Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri officially withdrew his resignation, saying his government decided to stay out of all conflicts, disputes, wars or the internal affairs of other Arab states in order to preserve Lebanon's economic and political ties.

* Bank Leumi le-Israel BM signed a cooperation agreement with Bank of China Ltd. to make it easier for Israeli companies to receive financing for their operations in China.

* Iranian banks have sold more than 150 trillion rials worth of their excess properties during the fiscal 2016-2017 year, in line with the government's push for lenders to shed excess assets and become more agile, the Financial Tribune wrote, citing Economy Minister Masoud Karbasian.

* Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's minister of communications and information technology, said the necessary infrastructures are ready for the implementation of digital banking in the country, the Financial Tribune reported. Implementation can proceed after the Central Bank of Iran announces regulations for digital banking.


* Banque de Tunisie et des Emirats SA's majority stakeholders, Tunisia and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, are planning to sell their 77.8% shareholding in the bank through a tender that will run from Dec. 11 to Jan. 15, 2018.

* Talks about Banque Centrale Populaire potentially taking a stake in Rwanda-based Bank of Kigali Ltd. have ended.

* Morocco is expected to introduce long-awaited rules to regulate takaful in the first half of 2018, the Middle East Insurance Review wrote.

* Export Development Bank of Egypt (SAE) unveiled a new five-year plan that includes setting up 58 new branches and 100 new ATMs in Egypt, Agence Ecofin wrote.

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