When the deal between Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes and Qatar’s QInvest fell apart yesterday, some in the banking industry were not surprised blaming Egypt’s stagnant business environment.
“Since when did the regulator approve anything after the revolution?” lamented one banker.
The Cairo and Doha-based banks said a planned joint venture had ended after they reached a 12-month deadline without approval from the Egyptian regulator, the Egyptian Financial Services Authority. The two sides had received approval from countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Jordan.
It was seen as the latest casualty of Egypt’s struggling economy after January 2011. But there is more to the story than meets the eye.
EFG Hermes’ top two executives, Hassan Heikal and Yasser El Mallawany are under investigation for alleged insider trading. They are among nine, including the two sons of former president Hosni Mubarak, alleged to have made an illegal profit of more than 2 billion Egyptian pounds ($331 million) through corrupt stock exchange transactions last May.
EFG’s CEOs and the other defendants deny the charges. The case is ongoing.
EFG spokespeople insisted there was no link between the delays in approving the joint venture and the investigations into the CEOs. But this is very difficult to believe when history shows that if any company is hit with any allegations of financial misconduct the heads of the company are usually the first to go.
The fact that Mr Heikal and Mr El Mallawany did not resign, despite investigations into a previous transaction, is likely to have put a dampener on the deal.
The CEOs reputation was no longer intact, innocent or not. Both are rumoured to have had close relationships to the former regime, especially Gamal Mubarak, within and outside the bank.
For some countries, this would be enough to prompt a resignation.
In Spain, for example, a rule of “professional virtue” is used as a prerequisite for those working in the banking industry and can be lost by anyone faced with a criminal record.
If the deal had gone through it would have paved the way for QInvest to buyout 60% of EFG, plug another $250 million into the banking business and give the CEOs a free ride out of their mess and responsibilities for the bank.
Was the head of Egypt’s regulator, Ashraf El Sharkawy, prepared to take this responsibility, knowing it would give the men a free pass?
The Financial Times alludes to this too:
According to a person familiar with the deal: “It fell through because no one in Egypt now wants to make a decision or affix their signatures to a piece of paper.”
Businessmen in Egypt have complained that, since the 2011 revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak as president, officials have shied away from making big decisions because of fears over possible allegations of corruption.
EFG has turned to Plan B. It will sell “non-core” assets and return most of the cash to shareholders to cut costs by 35%.
In light of the deal falling apart, and another lost business opportunity, perhaps it’s time for Mr Heikal and Mr El Mallawany to do the right thing and step down, taking responsibility for their case until it is resolved.