Abu Dhabi Group plans to invest several hundred million dollars in Georgia's telecoms, banking, tourism and real estate sectors and believes political unrest in the ex-Soviet country will be no obstacle to investment.
The company, owned by a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi emirate, will start operating a bank in Georgia this year and spend $100 million building a five-star hotel over the next few years, Chief Executive Bashir Ahmad Tahir said on Friday.
"If you are an investor looking for the perfect country, perfect investment opportunities, I don't think you'll find it. Something could happen even in the US, something could happen in the UK, so we definitely aren't frightened," Tahir told Reuters in an interview.
Foreign direct investment in Georgia doubled to $2 billion last year, but recent political unrest has raised concern among some investors.
President Mikhail Saakashvili dispersed opposition protests with tear gas and rubber bullets in November and later won a snap presidential election by a narrow margin. The opposition rejected the vote and has vowed to continue mass protests.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for April or May, and analysts say many potential investors are awaiting the outcome before committing to Georgia.
Tahir said Georgia would become more stable through elections: "This is the process that will ultimately bring stability. After the first election, then the second election, people will get used to it and get settled."
Tahir said Georgia's relatively low taxes and transparent business climate were favourable for foreign investment. Value-added tax in Georgia is 18 per cent, and tax on profit was recently reduced to 15 per cent from 20 per cent.
"The tax system is very encouraging. To be honest, when I was last here, some government officials tried to explain the tax system to me. I thought it was a language problem, because it sounded so good," he said.
Abu Dhabi Group in January acquired a banking licence from the National Bank of Georgia. Tahir said this bank would become a "supermarket" for clients seeking a range of financial services.
"We want to start as a fully fledged bank. Our concept is to develop a supermarket of financial services, including investment banking, asset management, securities, insurance."
The group also plans to develop high-speed wireless communication networks based on WiMax technology. The first phase of the project, covering Georgia's main cities, will be completed in September.
"The first phase will cost us $100-120 million. Then we will go to rural areas," Tahir said. He added the group planned to lay fibre-optic cables across Georgia.
"The most important thing this country needs is a nationwide backbone," he said. "That is an area in which we are prepared to invest, and we want to talk to the government."
Tahir said Abu Dhabi Group would also build a five-star hotel in Georgia. Its location has yet to be determined.
"I think Georgia is a very good destination for Europeans. It is a tourist-friendly country," he said. (Reuters)
Abu Dhabi sees investment potential in Georgia