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29 November 2023

Syria mulls majority foreign ownership

By Reuters

Syria is considering permitting foreign investors to hold majority stakes in local companies, including banks, its central bank governor said yesterday.

Gulf investors, including banks and telecoms firms, have sought to expand into Syria over the past two years but are only allowed to own a stake of up to 49 per cent.

"There is a plan," central bank chief Adeeb Mayaleh said when asked if Syria would allow foreign investors to take majority stakes. He did not give a time frame.

"We haven't reached that stage yet," Mayaleh said on the sidelines of an Arab economic summit in Kuwait City. Private banks were only allowed to set up in Syria five years ago and regulations curb lending and a range of banking activities found in neighbouring countries.

Syria's nine private banks have mainly Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Gulf shareholders. Western investors have stayed away from the sector, partly due to US sanctions imposed on the Damascus government in 2004 for its support of anti-American groups in the Middle East.

Commercial Bank of Kuwait offered last summer to boost its stake in Syria's Cham Bank, while Qatar National Bank said it had agreed with partners to set up a bank in Syria.