Tunisia's El Wifack plans to become Islamic bank

Mon Aug 19, 2013 4:12am EDT

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Aug 19 (Reuters) - Tunisia's El Wifack Leasing has applied to regulators to become the country's third full-fledged Islamic bank, the company said in a statement.

El Wifack, which has its debt rated BB+ by Fitch Ratings, also said it planned to raise its capital by 5 million dinars ($3.1 million) to 25 million dinars, regardless of whether it received approval to operate as an Islamic bank.

Islamic finance was neglected before Tunisia's 2011 revolution but the Islamist-led government is now promoting it.

Currently, sharia-compliant business accounts for just 2.5 percent of the Tunisian financial sector, according to a Thomson Reuters study this year, and there are only two fully operational Islamic banks, Zitouna Bank and the Tunisian arm of Bahrain's Al Baraka Banking Group.

Last month, parliament approved a law that will allow the state to issue Islamic bonds, or sukuk. The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has offered Tunisia a financial guarantee to issue a sukuk worth $600 million, though the issue could be delayed to 2014 because of political instability and approaching elections. (Reporting by Bernardo Vizcaino; Editing by Andrew Torchia)