Ex-Deutsche banker tipped for top Bahrain SWF job - sources

DUBAI, March 20 Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:42am EDT

DUBAI, March 20 (Reuters) - Salman al-Khalifa, a former top regional banker at Deutsche Bank in the Middle East, is the prime contender to run the $9 billion Bahraini sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Khalifa, who is a member of Bahrain's royal family, resigned in November as Deutsche's UAE country chief and head of global markets for Middle East and North Africa.

The al-Khalifa family rules Bahrain and many ministerial jobs in the Gulf Arab island kingdom are held by family members.

A spokeswoman for Mumtalakat said she has no information on the subject. Khalifa was not immediately available for comment.

Talal Al Zain resigned last month as chief executive of Mumtalakat, among the smallest of the Gulf sovereign wealth funds, to set up a new investment firm.

Sources said Zain's resignation was due to differences over strategy at the fund and lack of deal-making opportunities. Zain denied any differences within the fund.

"Salman will be perfect for the top job at Mumtalakat. The fund is evolving as a more passive investor and he has the right credentials and the connections to run it," a banking source who declined to be identified said.

"It also helps immensely if you have ties with the ruling family. They would feel more comfortable in handing over such a key and strategic role to an insider."

Bahrain, a regional offshore banking hub, has been hit by a year of unrest after majority Shi'ite Muslims, inspired by the "Arab Spring" uprisings, launched a pro-democracy movement which was put down by the government with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The sovereign fund, which owns stakes in several regional firms, has kept a low profile since the protests, shying away from making any headline-grabbing deals.

It has stakes in over 35 commercial entities, including the ailing national airline Gulf Air, Bahrain Telecommunications Co and Gulf International Bank.

The fund narrowed its 2010 operating loss to 48.9 million dinars ($129.71 million) from a loss of 123.4 million the year before, citing strong growth in gross margins and an improved operating performance across the portfolio. Revenues rose 15 percent in 2010, thanks to Aluminium Bahrain's commodity price-fuelled gains.

Prior to Deutsche Bank, Khalifa worked as regional head of the financial institutions group at BNP Paribas. (Editing by Amran Abocar)