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Dubai bank targets UK in bid to become largest Sharia lender

Dubai's newest Islamic bank is to go on a shopping spree for British financial institutions in an effort to become the world's largest Sharia lender within five years.

Noor Islamic Bank hopes to acquire controlling stakes in British banks to gain a foothold in European markets, where demand for Sharia-compliant services is growing.

"We would like to take the Noor brand outside the UAE by acquiring other financial institutions," Hussain al-Qemzi, its chief executive, told The Times. "Our interest is in not just getting that 5 per cent. We'd like to get our brand there so we can look at more of a controlling stake."

Noor is 25 per cent-owned by the Government of Dubai and 25 per cent by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, the emirate's ruler and the bank's chairman. It plans to spend up to $1billion on each acquisition in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It promises a "modern, tolerant and progressive" approach and cheaper premiums than its rivals.

British banks are at the top of its wishlist, with the UK considered the world's leading centre for Islamic finance outside the Middle East. "I think moving to the UK makes a lot of sense for us," said Mr Al Qemzi, who helped to establish the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Noor Islamic is the first of the Gulf's seven Sharia banks to pursue overseas expansion. It opened a month ago with ten branches across the UAE and plans to make its first international purchase by the end of the year through an investment-banking unit to be launched this month.

Mr al-Qemzi said that targets would not be limited to Sharia-compliant banks. "If we find a good opportunity for us to move into one of these interesting markets, we will move," he said.

He rejected criticism that Islamic finance structures lacked transparency. Noor - it means "light" in Arabic - is required by UAE law to go public within a few years. Mr al-Qemzi said that Islamic banking was less risky than Western finance, which has been battered by the sub-prime crisis.

Source: The Times
Date: 07.02.2008 [164]

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