New Beirut-based investment and merchant banking house Middle East Capital Group (MECG) has been launched with capital of $30 million and a number of leading regional businessmen on its board, following the close of a private placing of around half its equity.

‘The primary objective of the group is to channel capital and expertise into the Middle East at a time when the region is poised to expand and diversify its economies and broaden its capital markets,’ said a statement from Barclays investment arm BZW, which has a 16.7 per cent stake in MECG.

The other founder shareholders are the International Finance Corporation (IFC) with 10 per cent, the Bin Mahfouz family of Saudi Arabia with 16.7 per cent and three Lebanese investors with a total stake of 7 per cent (MEED 3:11:95). The Bin Mahfouz holding is being managed by National Commercial Bank. The other 49.6 per cent has been taken by regional investors through the private placing.

The three Lebanese investors have been confirmed in top management posts. Nabeel Sawabini, formerly of JP Morgan, will be chief executive. Jamal Jarudi, formerly of the Saudi AI-Mawarid Group, will be managing director in charge of corporate and project finance. Safi Harb, who has worked for IFC, will be managing director in charge of restructuring and privatisation. Ziad Makkawi, formerly with JP Morgan, Elf-Acquitaine and Lebanon Invest, will take charge of capital markets.

MECG’s 15-member board is chaired by Khalid al-Turki, founding shareholder of Saudi American Bank and chairman of ABC International Bank. The members, most of whom are influential regional business figures, include Abdulaziz Abdulkader, owner of the AMA group of companies and chairman of Bank al-Jazira and Ahmed alBadi, owner of the Abu Dhabi-based Belbadi Group and former acting UAE oil minister. BZW’s representatives are its emerging markets chief executive John Standen and vice-chairman Robert WadeGrey.

The new institution plans a wide range of activities, concentrating at first on Lebanon and neighbouring countries and including financial advice, structuring, underwriting and trading regional securities and developing investment and mutual funds.

‘Business will lie at first in private equity and project finance in areas like infrastructure, then developing outwards into capitalraising propositions,’ a banking source said. ‘There will also be a lot of advisory work, for example in advising inward investors.’