Govern­ment’s role in pri­vate deal be­tween Banif and new share­hold­ers re­mains un­clear

● PM thanks Keith Schem­bri for ‘get­ting things done’ ● No in­for­ma­tion yet about the ac­tual ‘in­vest­ment’ be­ing made by Qatari group

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - ■ Neil Camil­leri

The govern­ment’s role in a deal that saw a Qatari in­vest­ment group ac­quire the ma­jor­ity share­hold­ing in Banif Malta re­mains un­clear, as does the so-called in­vest­ment the group will be mak­ing in Malta.

Cu­ri­ously, the an­nounce­ment that Al Faisal In­ter­na­tional Trade and In­vest­ment had ac­quired a 78.64% stake in the Mal­tese branch of the Por­tuguese bank was made yes­ter­day morn­ing dur­ing a press con­fer­ence held at the Au­berge de Castille. While it is usual prac­tice for pri­vate com­pa­nies to change their ma­jor­ity share­hold­ers, it is quite un­usual for such de­vel­op­ments to be an­nounced by gov­ern­ments, more so in the Of­fice of the Prime Min­ster.

Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat yes­ter­day partly jus­ti­fied this by say­ing that the govern­ment had dis­cussed the deal with Sheikh Faisal Bin Qas­sim Al Thani dur­ing a re­cent trip to Qatar but the fact that the govern­ment be­came in­volved in pri­vate busi­ness deal­ings has raised ques­tions.

The Sheikh, who is a mem­ber of the Qatari royal fam­ily, did not dis­close what the value of the share­hold­ing ac­quired by his com­pany was and con­tin­u­ously re­ferred to the deal as an ‘in­vest­ment.’ He went on about how Malta was an ideal place to in­vest in and said that the group would in­crease the bank’s cap­i­tal, al­low­ing it to start of­fer­ing new bank­ing ser­vices, but did not say what the in­vest­ment would amount to, and if the bank would be in­creas­ing jobs in Malta.

On his own part, Dr Mus­cat said the agree­ment had great strate­gic im­por­tance for Malta. “Banif Malta, the third largest player in Malta’s com­mer­cial bank­ing sec­tor, needed new in­put. I am sure that, through this

in­vest­ment deal, the bank will take on a much more proac­tive role when it comes to busi­nesses and when it comes to its out­look on our econ­omy.”

The PM said he was sure that the Al Faisal group would in­vest in Malta again. He also drew a par­al­lel to re­cent for­eign in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing the re­cent an­nounce­ment that US firm Crane Cur­rency would open a cur­rency print­ing fac­tory in Malta. But un­like that press con­fer­ence, no fig­ures were men­tioned yes­ter­day - nei­ther when it came to the stake ac­qui­si­tion nor the in­vest­ment.

Dr Mus­cat thanked the Cham­ber of Com­merce and Econ­omy Min­is­ter Chris Car­dona for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the deal.

He also made sure to thank his Chief of Staff, Keith Schem­bri, for “al­ways get­ting things mov­ing on time.”

Pressed for an ex­pla­na­tion as to Mr Schem­bri’s, and in­deed the govern­ment’s in­volve­ment in what seems to be strictly a pri­vate deal, a spokesman for Dr Mus­cat said: “As ex­plained dur­ing to­day’s an­nounce­ment, Al Faisal ex­pressed in­ter­est in in­vest­ing in Malta fol­low­ing a meet­ing be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and Sheikh Faisal Bin Qas­sim Al Thani in Doha 2015. This meet­ing was fa­cil­i­tated by the Cham­ber of Com­merce and was fol­lowed up by a del­e­ga­tion from Al Faisal to Malta, which iden­ti­fied Banif as a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity. When on busi­ness trips such as the one in Qatar, the Prime Min­is­ter and the govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, with­out fail, pro­mote Malta and fa­cil­i­tate in­vest­ment.”

The spokesper­son con­tin­ued: “Keith Schem­bri’s role is to keep at­tract­ing in­vest­ment to Malta and mak­ing sure things get done. And they get done.”

Con­tacted by this news­pa­per, the Malta Cham­ber of Com­merce said it had had “no role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions of this in­vest­ment and there­fore any ques­tions on the specifics of the in­vest­ment should be ad­dressed at the in­volved par­ties.”

A spokesman added: “How­ever the Malta Cham­ber takes credit for pro­mot­ing Malta as an ideal in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tion in Qatar. The in­vest­ment re­ferred to in the ques­tion is the re­sult of a long stand­ing busi­ness re­la­tion­ship that ex­ists be­tween Malta and Qatar in which the Malta Cham­ber has long held a lead­ing role. The Malta Cham­ber to­gether with the Mid­dle East Busi­ness Coun­cil and Malta En­ter­prise par­tic­i­pated in a num­ber of Busi­ness Del­e­ga­tions to Qatar in the re­cent past.

“In June of last year, the Malta Cham­ber wel­comed a vis­it­ing del­e­ga­tion from Al Faisal In­ter­na­tional for In­vest­ment Co. at the Malta Cham­ber which pro­vided the ini­tial steps towards po­ten­tial in­vest­ment in Malta.

“The Malta Cham­ber is in­ter­ested in the fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties that this in­vest­ment will open, such as im­proved fi­nan­cial links to Qatar and the pos­si­bil­ity of Is­lamic Bank­ing.”

Ques­tions sent to Banif Bank Malta and the Al Faisal group re­mained unan­swered by the time of go­ing to print.

This news­pa­per has asked for the value of the share ac­qui­si­tion and the to­tal amount that Al Faisal will be ‘in­vest­ing’ in Banif.

We also asked whether the agree­ment would im­pact the bank’s 150-strong work­force and whether the bank would re­tain its name or be re­branded.

Ques­tions had to be sent by email since jour­nal­ists were not al­lowed to ask any­thing af­ter yes­ter­day’s press con­fer­ence.

The PM’s press officers told jour­nal­ists that ques­tions had to be asked di­rectly to the ‘in­vestors,’ de­spite the fact that the press con­fer­ence was called by the govern­ment, held at the Au­berge de Castille and presided over by Dr Mus­cat.

In a state­ment, Banif Malta CEO Joaquim Fran­cisco Da Silva Pinto said that “in the short term it would be busi­ness as usual for our cus­tomers as we con­sol­i­date and ex­pe­dite our cur­rent growth strat­egy, with the back­ing of such a ma­jor, global in­vestor we look for­ward to lever­ag­ing new re­sources and ex­per­tise to fur­ther de­velop and en­hance the bank’s ser­vices and re­la­tion­ships with all our stake­hold­ers.”

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Sheikh Faisal Bin Qas­sim Al Thani ad­dress­ing yes­ter­day’s press con­fer­ence

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.