Lebanese judge charges central bank governor with illicit enrichment

Judge Ghada Aoun said the charge against central bank governor Riad Salameh related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2022

Lebanese judge charges central bank governor with illicit enrichment

  • Judge Ghada Aoun said the charge related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge charged central bank governor Riad Salameh with illicit enrichment on Monday, the judge told Reuters, days after she ordered his brother Raja arrested in the same case.
Judge Ghada Aoun said Riad Salameh, governor for nearly three decades, had not attended a hearing scheduled for Monday, and she had charged him in absentia.
She said the charge related to the purchase and rental of Paris apartments, including some to the central bank, Aoun told Reuters.
Reuters could not immediately reach Riad Salameh for comment on Monday.
On Friday, Raja Salameh’s lawyer said allegations of illicit enrichment and money laundering against his client were unfounded, calling the evidence “media speculation without any evidence.”

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Saudi banks increase loans by $77.1bn in Q2

Updated 48 min 39 sec ago

Saudi banks increase loans by $77.1bn in Q2

  • Kingdom is moving toward Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s bank loan portfolio rose by SR289 billion ($77.1 billion) in the second quarter of this year from the same quarter a year ago, according to a recent statistical bulletin released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA.

Bank loans totaled SR2.42 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up from SR1.95 trillion in the second quarter of 2021, showed the SAMA report.

The SR289 billion increase was led by an SR191.1 billion growth in miscellaneous activities. Its share increased by 2 percentage points to 52 percent in the second quarter of 2022.

The data showed that the value of Saudi banks’ aggregate loan portfolio totaled SR2.24 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up 14.8 percent from the year before and up 4 percent from the previous quarter.

The annual growth in bank loans dropped to a negative in 2017 and remained below zero until the third quarter of 2018. However, bank loans have been seeing an upward trend ever since, according to the SAMA report.

From the third quarter of 2018 until the end of 2019, the value of Saudi bank loans grew at an average rate of 3.7 percent year on year; between 2020 and the second quarter of this year, it grew at an average rate of 14.8 percent year on year.

The dominating segment in the Kingdom’s loans was miscellaneous economic activity, which acquired 52 percent of the total loans this quarter.

Commerce came in second, holding 17.2 percent of total loans in the country, recording SR385.7 billion in the second quarter, showed the data.

The Ministry of Commerce in the Kingdom has been moving toward the Saudi Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability, according to the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform.

The platform stated: “The Ministry of Commerce’s mission focuses on improving the business environment in Saudi Arabia through enacting, developing and supervising the implementation of flexible and fair trade policies and regulations.”

Even though total bank loans expanded this quarter, two economic activities saw a quarterly decline in bank credit in the second quarter of this year: manufacturing and processing and transport and communication.

Bank loans to transport and communication fell by SR6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.

Compared to the previous quarter, the sector dropped from 2.1 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 1.9 percent, showed the SAMA bulletin.

Bank loans given to manufacturing and processing fell by SR4 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.

The data showed that the sector dropped from 7.2 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 6.9 percent compared to the previous quarter.

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QS Monitor taps 90% of global food trade

Updated 13 August 2022

QS Monitor taps 90% of global food trade

  • Platform currently operates in 72 countries: Managing director Burak Karapinar

RIYADH: UAE-based global food trade startup QS Monitor has created a platform for food traders to ship their goods risk-free.

Established in 2020, the company mitigates the risk for exporters as they streamline their shipments to avoid food loss by providing traders with the requirements for their goods to pass security measures.

Burak Karapinar, the managing director and founder of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform currently operates in 72 countries, which amounts to almost 90 percent of the global food trade industry.

“We are in 72 countries and growing, but this represents almost 90 percent of the global food trade. So, the ones we don’t have on the platform right now are either small countries or ones that are not big in the food trade,” Karapinar said.

Calling it the “Google for food trade,” Karapinar explained that traders input the product along with the destination, and QS Monitor will provide a complete list of requirements.

But that is not at all. Joe Hawayek, the board member of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform also links users to testing laboratories in their country.

“We are linking them with a testing laboratory in their country that can conduct these tests, issue them with the relevant certification that says they have passed, and they take it and travel with it for their product from the start,” he added.

By linking these players, Karapinar is trying to mitigate the food loss in the supply chain caused due to contamination. 

FASTFACTS

• As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.

• Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products.

“To give you an idea, 72 percent of global food loss happens in the supply chain, not at home or on the consumer’s plate,” he pointed out.

As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.

“That’s another beauty that we can provide to this platform. The onboarding of a supplier takes months. You need to be able to verify all the information and make sure the supplier meets your criteria and standards.

“Through our platform, you don’t need to do that. You can gather this information. And you can make your decision. So, we also add the trust element between the buyer and the seller,” Karapinar said.

Hawayek also added that Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products. With a network of over 400 laboratories, the company provides several services through its platform and certification for Halal requirements for certain foods.

“We did more than 10,000 transactions last year; this includes certification testing, inspection, product registration, and supplier audits,” Karapinar added.

With 6,000 traders on the platform, Karapinar stated that the company currently has 1,000 traders on QS Monitor from the Kingdom and is planning to grow that number by a minimum of five times.

In addition, the company is currently in series A funding stage and is on its way to raising $8 million and expanding its staff from 18 to 60 people in the next five months.

QS Monitor also won UAE’s FoodTech Challenge provided by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which features almost 600 companies.

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Gazprom ramps up gas flow to Hungary via Turkstream pipeline, official says

Updated 13 August 2022

Gazprom ramps up gas flow to Hungary via Turkstream pipeline, official says

  • The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years

BUDAPEST: Russia’s Gazprom has ramped up flows to Hungary via the Turkstream pipeline that brings gas to Hungary via Serbia, a Hungarian Foreign Ministry official said on Saturday.

EU member Hungary has maintained what it calls pragmatic relations with Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creating tensions with some EU allies keen to take a tougher line.

Hungary, which is about 85 percent dependent on Russian gas, firmly opposes the idea of any EU sanctions on Russian gas imports and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also lobbied hard to secure an exemption from EU sanctions on Russian crude oil imports.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow last month, seeking a further 700 million cubic meters of gas on top of an existing long-term supply deal with Russia.

Under a subsequent agreement, Gazprom started ramping up gas flows to Hungary on Friday, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Tamas Menczer said in a statement.

Menczer said Gazprom would add 2.6 million cubic meters of additional gas per day to previously-agreed deliveries via Turkstream through August, with the amount of September deliveries being negotiated.

Hungary’s reserves stored 2.84 billion cubic meters of gas by the middle of July, the lowest level for that period over the past five years based on data by the national energy regulator.

Under a deal signed last year, before the start of the war in neighboring Ukraine, Hungary receives 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year via Bulgaria and Serbia under its long-term deal with Russia and a further 1 bcm via a pipeline from Austria.

The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years.

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Arab News top picks of MENA’s 10 most funded fintech startups

Updated 14 August 2022

Arab News top picks of MENA’s 10 most funded fintech startups

  • Technology-based sectors starting to dominate the business landscape in the region

RIYADH: The entrepreneurial ecosystem has been on the rise in the Middle East and North Africa region for a while, with technology-based sectors starting to dominate the business landscape.

Financial technology, popularly known as fintech, has been a promising sector for business people and investors alike, with startups entering and exiting the industry like never before.

The numbers speak for themselves. Startup funding increased 540 percent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same time last year, reported Dubai-based MAGNiTT, a startup research platform.

To get a sense of the action in the fintech domain, Arab News has compiled a list of the 10 most funded fintech startups in the MENA region.


Foodics

Founders Ahmad Al-Zaini, Musab Al-Othmani

Funding $198 million

Rounds: 5

Investors 17 investors including STV, Sanabil and Prosus

Headquarters Saudi Arabia

Foodics offers a point-of-sale management system for restaurants that lets business owners keep track of all their operations, from the kitchen to employees and sales.

The company offers many facilities that support restaurant operations, including micro-lending and payments catering to food and beverage establishments.

In its latest funding round, Foodics secured $170 million in a series C round, allowing it to grow its fintech arm and micro-lending operations.


Tabby

Founders Hosam Arab, Daniil Barkalov

Funding $186 million

Rounds 7

Investors 19 investors including STV, Global Founders Capital and Raed Ventures

Headquarters UAE

One of the leading buy-now-pay-later platforms in the region, Tabby aims to provide financial freedom to shoppers by offering solutions without interest or debt fees.

Focusing on the retail sector, the company wants to improve the shopping experience of its loyal customers by offering a flexible checkout experience.

Tabby raised $54 million in its last series B round, and it aims to use it to expand its product offering.


Tamara

Founder Abdulmohsen Al-babtain, Abdulmajeed Al-sukhan, Turki Bin Zarah

Funding $116 million

Rounds 4

Investors 9 investors including Impact46, CheckOut.com and Nama Ventures

Headquarters Saudi Arabia

Another pioneer in the buy-now-pay-later market, Tamara is a Saudi-based fintech that offers its solutions to merchants and buyers alike.

The company aims to create a seamless experience for shoppers by providing a zero-interest fee for its services.

In 2021, Tamara raised $110 million in a series A round, making it a record-breaking round last year.


Paymob

Founder Islam Shawky, Alain El-Hajj, Mostafa Menessy

Funding $68.5 million

Rounds 4

Investors 10 including PayPal Ventures, Nclude and A15

Headquarters Egypt

Paymob, one of the players that changed the game in the Egyptian market, is a complete fintech solution for emerging markets and small and medium enterprises.

The company offers a complete digital payment solution for businesses to accept online and in-store payments.

Founded in 2015, Paymob raised $50 million in a series B funding round in May 2022, which was used in product development and market expansion. 

Ahmad Al-Zaini, the co-Founder and CEO of Foodics, a Riyadh-based startup which helps food outlets with their digital transformation. (Supplied)

PostPay

Founder Tariq Sheikh

Funding $63.5 million, according to Forbes

Rounds Undisclosed

Investors Touch Ventures and AfterPay

Headquarters UAE

Founded in 2019, Postpay is a flexible payment firm that offers shoppers to pay in three monthly interest-free installments at its partner stores.

The company works with leading global brands such as H&M, Footlocker, Dermalogica and domestic merchants such as The Entertainer and Squat Wolf.

Last June, the company secured $10 million in equity investment; the funds will be used to fuel its expansion plans across the MENA region.


HyperPay

Founder Muhannad Ebwini

Funding $50.5 million

Rounds 4

Investors 8 including Mastercard and AB Ventures

Headquarters Saudi Arabia

HyperPay offers a payment gateway for online businesses to accept and manage
payments online with flexibility and security.

Founded in 2014, the company has an extensive network of partners with banks across the Middle East and North Africa to better facilitate online payments in local currencies.

In its last funding round, HyperPay secured $36.7 million in June 2022 to enable the company to grow its team and introduce new payment solutions. 


Khazna

Founder Omar Saleh, Ahmed Wagueeh, Fatma Shenawy

Funding $47 million

Rounds 7

Investors 12 including Quona Capital, Khawazimi Ventures and Nclude

Headquarters Egypt

Another Egyptian fintech startup that tops the list, Khazna, is a financial super app that offers a wide range of solutions for underserved individuals.

The company aims to provide
the 20 million underserved Egyptians with banking and financial options through their smartphones.

Founded in 2019, the company raised $38 million in March 2022, allowing it to replace cash-driven alternatives across Egypt.


BitOasis

Founder Daniel Robenek, Ola Doudin

Funding $30 million

Rounds 6

Investors 15 including Wamda and Jump Capital

Headquarters UAE

A new kind of fintech added to the list, BitOasis is a cryptocurrency trading platform that offers a digital asset wallet.

Founded in 2015, the company allows users to buy, sell, trade and exchange crypto assets in the UAE.

Raising $30 million in its last funding round, BitOasis got approvals from the Abu Dhabi General Market and partnered with police entities to combat crypto fraud.


Telr

Founder Khalil Alami

Funding $28.9 million

Round 4

Investors 4 including Cashfree Payments and iMena Group

Headquarters UAE

An award-winning payment gateway provider, Telr has offices in Singapore, the UAE, India, and Saudi Arabia.

The company offers businesses a set of application programming interfaces and tools to enable them to accept and manage online payments.

Telr raised $15 million in a funding round in 2021 by India-based Cashfree payments to better facilitate cross-border payments.


Paytabs

Founder Abdulaziz Al Jouf

Funding $25.3 million

Rounds 2

Investors Saudi Aramco

Headquarters Saudi Arabia

Another award-winning startup, Paytabs, is a B2B online payments solutions provider that aims to give merchants digital payment features on their websites.

The company offers application programming interfaces to facilitate transactions in multiple currencies and other markets.

Founded in 2014, Paytabs is a Saudi Aramco-backed company that currently operates in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

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Pakistan’s national currency continues to gain against greenback

Updated 11 August 2022

Pakistan’s national currency continues to gain against greenback

  • Pakistani rupee gained Rs3.03 to close at Rs218.88 against the greenback in the interbank market
  • Rupee in the open market also appreciated from Rs218 to Rs216 for selling during trading on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency on Thursday continued its bullish trend and appreciated 1.38 percent against the United States dollar amid easing balance of payment pressure and expected inflows from the International Monetary Fund, traders and analysts said.

The Pakistani rupee gained Rs3.03 to close at Rs218.88 against the greenback in the interbank market following eight consecutive appreciation trading sessions. The rupee has recouped its value by 9.3% or Rs21 against the greenback in the continued uptrend, according to State Bank of Pakistan data.

“There are couple of reasons for the current appreciation of the Pak rupee against dollar including easing off balance of payment pressure and declining demand at home after government’s administrative measures to curtail imports,” Tahir Abbas, Director Research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.  

“Declining current account deficit and price cut of oil and other commodities also eased off pressure on the rupee. The expected inflows from the IMF by the end of this month and undervalued currency are also the key reasons of rupee appreciation.”  

Following austerity measures by the government and a restriction on imports, the import bill has declined from $7.8 billion in June 2022 to $4.8 billion in July 2022, which has not only reduced the trade deficit but also eased pressure on the national currency.  

The rupee in the open market also appreciated from Rs218 to Rs216 for selling during trading on Thursday. The currency in the open market has appreciated by over 11% or Rs28 since July 29, 2022, according to the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP).

“There are only sellers in the market after the sentiments have changed following the measures taken by government and the central bank,” Zafar Paracha, General Secretary of ECAP told Arab News.
 
“The central bank has taken action against the banks’ treasuries departments which were involved in maneuvering of dollar in interbank market. In addition, the expected reduction in the import bill of August has also played appreciation role.”    

The pressure on the Pakistani rupee eased off after the government took steps to curtail imports and meet preconditions of the IMF for the revival of a $6 billion program signed in 2019 to stave off a balance of payment crisis.  

The IMF said last month it had reached a staff level agreement with Pakistan that would pave the way for the disbursement of $1.17 billion after its board approval later this month. Islamabad also has to convince the fund about the availability of funds for a $4 billion financing gap.

Last week, the UAE’s state news agency had reported that the country intended to invest $1 billion in Pakistani companies across various sectors, which include gas, energy infrastructure, renewable energy and healthcare.

Following the current bullish trend in the currency market, Pakistani analysts said the currency was likely to appreciate further to around Rs200 against the greenback in the near future.  

Stocks, however, on Thursday, remained bearish mainly due to profit taking that kicked off during the midsession. The benchmark KSE-100 index closed at 42,243 points, down by 251 points.

“Stocks fell sharply lower on political noise and hike in power tariff. Mid session support remained on strong rupee and falling Pakistan dollar bond yields,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Investor concerns for weak earnings outlook played a catalyst role in bearish close.”