Reports surfaced this past week that Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Co. (Zain)–the leading African and Middle Eastern mobile operator–is close to rescheduling a $2.5 billion two-year “murabaha” loan agreement on behalf of its subsidiary, Zain Saudi Arabia, that it signed in 2007 in order to finance the development of its infrastructure and the expansion of its subscribers’ base.  Commitments will likely come from Saudi Arabia’s Al-Rajhi Bank and Banque Saudi Fransi, as well as France’s Calyon.

Under murabaha, a intermediary financier buys a property or commodity and sells it to the buyer at a higher price (retaining free and clear title/ownership until the loan is paid in full), thus complying with Islam’s ban on interest.  The theory under murabaha is that the transaction is not an interest-bearing loan, which is considered “riba” (excess).  To prevent riba, the intermediary cannot be compensated above the agreed upon terms of the contract–even through late penalties should one party default.  Murabaha is therefore a permitted method form credit extension under Sharia (Islamic religious) law, since the fee earned is not interest per se, but rather a holding-related charge.

Back in May Zain lowered its net profit growth targets for 2009 from 30% to 20% due to the global recession, and also announced that it would seek a credit rating in order to tap longer term debt markets by 2010-end.  It also unveiled a plan to slash its expenditure targets by half, and to focus on “synergies among its various units,” per Ibrahim Adel, its Chief Communications Officer.

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