Syria financial services

25 September 2008

The six key figures in the Syrian banking sector: Adib Mayaleh, Abdullah Dardari, Bassel Hamwi, Rateb, Shallah, Douraid Dergham and Aleppoburn Faisal Kudsi.

Adib Mayaleh

Position: Governor, Central Bank of Syria

Biography: French-educated Adib Mayaleh has won numerous plaudits since taking up his role as governor of the Central Bank of Syria in 2005, overseeing an acceleration of reform in the banking sector and bolstering the independence of the central bank. Mayaleh has attempted to put some distance between the Finance Ministry and the bank, arguing that the ministry needs to stop relying on direct borrowing from the central bank to finance the budget deficit. He has taken some bold steps, notably dropping the currency’s dollar peg in favour of a basket of currencies in 2007. His next big project is to complete the liberalisation of the current account and move to a fully convertible currency exchange system. However, Mayaleh is unlikely to be rushed into taking such measures, believing other countries in a similar position have acted too quickly and later regretted their decisions.

Contact Tel: (+9631) 1222 0550

Abdullah Dardari

Position: Deputy prime minister for economic affairs

Biography: Abdullah Dardari is a true believer in the power of the free market, a belief that took root in the 1980s when he was an economic researcher and then a journalist based in London. Dardari is the most senior government figure pushing economic reform in Syria and over the past five years he has burnished his credentials as a reform guru by placing banking reform at the heart of the overall reform programme. In a bid to shrink the role of the state, he has shaken up the tax system so that average taxes have fallen to 22 per cent, and is planning to introduce value added tax (VAT) in 2009. One of Dardari’s most cherished projects may also finally be realised next year, with the launch of the Damascus Stock Exchange. His biggest test is to oversee this realignment of the Syrian economy amid a rapid decline in oil revenues - the regime’s main source of hard currency.

Contact Tel: (+9631) 1221 3514

Bassel Hamwi

Position: General manager, Bank Audi Syria

Biography: A former World Bank business developer, Bassel Hamwi has emerged as one of Syria’s most prominent bankers since the sector was liberalised in 2004. As the general manager of one of the largest Lebanese banks in Syria, he has promoted new product launches, introducing the first credit card in Syria last year. This year, he put together Syria’s largest project finance deal - a $380m loan to finance a cement plant for France’s Lafarge. An outspoken advocate of financial sector reform, Hamwi is also vice-chairman of the Damascus Stock Exchange, where he is helping to oversee the establishment of the country’s first bourse. Hamwi says this will catalyse economic development in Syria, unleashing a latent but untapped appetite for investment among ordinary Syrians denied the opportunity for many years. Once the bourse is launched, Hamwi will remain a powerful influence on the Syrian financial sector.

Contact Tel: (+9631) 1238 88000

Rateb Shallah

Position: President, Syrian Federation of Chambers of Commerce

Biography: One of the most powerful Syrian businessmen, Rateb Shallah is chair of the soon to be launched Damascus Stock Exchange and holds an equity interest in Blom Bank Syria, in addition to his roles as head of the Syrian Federation of Chambers of Commerce and chairman of the Damascus Chamber. If any major deal is happening in Syria, Shallah is sure to know about it. Given his influence, his views carry a lot of weight in government circles. He has led calls for a series of economic reforms, including allowing banks to trade fixed instruments, and has called for the unification of the exchange rate. His role at the helm of the Damascus Stock Exchange will give him significant influence over the development of Syria’s economy, and he has held talks with the NYSE Euronext about installing its trading platform in Damascus.

Contact Tel: (+9631) 1333 7344

Douraid Dergham

Position: Chairman, Commercial Bank of Syria

Biography: Douraid Dergham, a former Paris-based academic, took the helm of Syria’s largest bank - and the only bank officially allowed to deal in hard currency - at a difficult time. In 2004, the bank was officially designated by the US Department of the Treasury as a financial institution of “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act - terminating all correspondent accounts involving the bank. Despite this, Dergham has overhauled the bank’s operations in a bid to enable CBS to keep up with the new private sector entrants to the market. The bank chief played a key role in Syria’s decision to switch the state’s foreign currency transactions from dollars to euros, a timely intervention to prevent bank assets being frozen. Dergham’s biggest challenge is to ensure the bank can compete with the fast-developing private sector banks in terms of its standards of delivery.

Contact Tel: (+9631) 1245 9536

Aleppoburn Faisal Kudsi

Position: Executive chairman, International Investment Trust

Biography: The son of a former president of Syria, Nazim al-Kudsi, Aleppoburn Faisal Kudsi is one of the most prominent expatriate Syrian investors. Currently executive chairman of London-based boutique investment banking firm International Investment Trust, he has previously worked at Merrill Lynch and Arab Bank. In 1996, he established Gulfinvest International in Kuwait, a regional investment company, and in 1998 established Jordan Invest. Kusi’s International Investment Trust acted as the investment banking adviser on the establishment of a sugar refinery in Syria, which was completed in 2006. This is the largest Syrian private sector investment to date. Now a frequent visitor to his homeland, following many years of exile, Kudsi is a significant voice pushing for the opening up of Syria’s financial sector.

Contact Tel: (+2077) 495 6455

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