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Saudis, Chinese Eyeing Tajikistan’s Biggest Bank: Reports

A rejuvenating injection of foreign cash may be on the cards for the troubled Tojiksodirotbank. 2 January 2019

Tajikistan’s largest bank, the Finance Ministry-owned Tojiksodirotbank, was in talks with several potential buyers, including a Saudi group that made a preliminary offer for a 51 percent stake earlier this year, Tajik media reported last month, according to bNe Intellinews.

 

In addition to the offer from Saudi Investment Group, the reports said the bank was considering selling a 70 percent stake to a Chinese company, Junan. Russia’s VTB and Sberbank were also reportedly holding talks with the bank.

 

Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia, is still trying to emerge from the shocks of the last decade, first the financial crisis, then the resulting staggers of the Russian economy, the main source of income for millions of Tajik workers.

 

Tojiksodirotbank’s troubles were singled out in a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) report on Central Asian banking in November. In Tajikistan, “the main short-term priority is to resolve challenges in the financial sector and restore public trust in banks,” the report stated, calling for “policy actions” to deal with Tojiksodirotbank and another troubled lender, Agroinvestbank.

 

“Tajikistan has failed to secure IMF support since 2015, when its banking sector collapsed under the weight of its bad lending practices,” Intellinews writes.

 

The Saudi bid may be more of a foreign-policy move than investment in a risk-laden Central Asian economy. That is, if the bidder really exists.

 

Practically nothing is known of “Saudi Investment Group” (or Chinese “Junan” for that matter), Eurasianet.org writes.

 

An entity called Saudi Investment Group Ltd. with owners from among the Saudi royal family appeared in the Panama Papers leaks, although there is no apparent connection. A source in the Saudi Embassy in Tashkent claimed no knowledge of Saudi Investment Group.

 

The Saudis have made no secret of the fact that previous investments in Tajikistan were part of a strategy to push Iran out of the country, and the interest in its banking sector could be linked to that geopolitical goal.

 

 

  • The IMF said in May that Tajikistan had made progress with financial reforms and could be rewarded with the opening of talks on a support program, Intellinews says.

 

  • Non-performing loans made up 22 percent of total loans as of 1 August, the Tajik central bank said.

 

  • The government pumped about $285 million into Tojiksodirotbank two years ago to keep it afloat, Eurasianet reports. The bank’s chief, Tojiddin Pirzoda, discussed support for the bank with representatives of the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia in late December, Asia-Plus reports, citing the Tajik Foreign Ministry.
Compiled by Ky Krauthamer
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