UK law firms to run Bahrain banks

The Central Bank of Bahrain has appointed two British law firms to administer a pair of Bahraini banks.

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The Central Bank of Bahrain has appointed two British law firms to administer a pair of Bahraini banks owned by the struggling Saudi Arabian conglomerates the Saad and Al Gosaibi groups. From today, Trowers and Hamlins will lead the administration of The International Banking Corporation (TIBC) while Charles Russell will administer Awal Bank, the central bank said.

The central bank assumed the administration last month of Awal Bank, which is owned by the Saad Group, and TIBC, which is owned by Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers. The financial troubles of the two Saudi family conglomerates arose in May, when TIBC defaulted on its financial obligations to other banks because of a planned debt restructuring by Al Gosaibi, whose operations include financial services, property, hotels and shipping. Saad's problems came to light shortly afterwards when it emerged that the group was also being forced to restructure its debt.

The central bank took control of both companies on July 30, saying a report that it commissioned had uncovered substantial shortfalls of assets compared to liabilities. It said it had decided to appoint law firms to lead the administration proceedings because of the number of legal cases involving both banks. A leading accountancy firm would be working alongside the administrators to ensure the interests of creditors were upheld, the central bank said.

The administrators will be instructed to identify any outstanding claims of creditors and to manage the distribution of the remaining assets of the banks, the regulator said. Bahrain's central bank refused to comment beyond its statement yesterday, while no one was available to comment from either Trowers and Hamlins or Charles Russell. TIBC had assets of US$3.8 billion (Dh13.9bn) and Awal Bank had $7.6bn at the end of last year, according to figures on their websites. The grand court of the Cayman Islands has ordered a worldwide freeze of $9.2bn in assets belonging to the Saudi billionaire Maan al Sanea, the owner of Saad.

The Bahrain central bank was also reviewing the actions of people connected with the management of the banks to ensure they complied with the "standard of fitness and propriety" required, the regulator said in a statement on July 30. Rasheed al Maraj, the governor of the Bahraini central bank, told Al Arabiya television last week that the effects of the two banks' debt burden on the country's financial sector were very limited.

Standard & Poor's last week downgraded TIBC to "D/D", or default, from "SD/SD", or selective default, after the central bank said it would appoint an administrator for the lender. It previously downgraded TIBC to selective default in May after the bank defaulted on some of its debt. The Bahrain office of Trowers and Hamlins is the largest international law office in the kingdom, according to the firm's website. Charles Russell's office, which is based in the Bahrain World Trade Centre, covers corporate finance, property and communications, among other areas.