UPDATE 1-Atlas Mara plans to buy stake in state-run Rwandan bank BRD

Sun Apr 6, 2014 6:50am EDT

* Bank sale seen as part of broader sell-off drive

* Deal to boost Rwanda's bid to be financial hub

* Atlas Mara earlier made Botswana acquisition (Adds details about the deal)

By Jenny Clover

KIGALI, April 6 (Reuters) - Atlas Mara, an investment company backed by former Barclays boss Bob Diamond, said it planned to buy a controlling stake in state-run Development Bank of Rwanda to build a regional financial services firm.

Rwanda, which wants to become a hub for finance in Africa, has said it plans to sell the partly state-owned bank, known as BRD because of its French name Banque Rwandaise de Developpement, as part of a broader privatisation programme.

"We are acquiring the government's stake through this process which is just over 75 percent," Diamond told a news conference in Kigali on Sunday.

Rwandan Finance Minister Claver Gatete said that so far only a preliminary memorandum of understanding had been signed but he added that the deal could be finalised within two months.

"The government of Rwanda is committed to privatisation in a sense that attracts foreign direct investments, gives investors good business opportunities and also boosts economic growth," he said at the news conference.

The BRD deal would involve splitting the bank's activities between its commercial operations, to be run by Atlas Mara, and its development work, in which the government would have a role.

Atlas Mara was created by Diamond's Atlas Merchant Capital and Mara Group Holdings, set up in 1996 by Ugandan-born entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar.

Last month, Atlas Mara said it would acquire Botswana-based ABC Holdings (BancABC) and ADC African Development Corporation AG.

Atlas Mara plans to build a sub-Saharan African financial services group, according to a statement announcing the deal.

"BRD is an opportunity for Atlas Mara to create a privately run financial services group in Rwanda, which will serve as a platform for them to expand into the attractive east African market," it said.

That will be a boost to plans to build a financial industry for the region based in Rwanda, where nine commercial banks now operate although none are major global players. Rwanda has said it wants to attract more institutions.

Rwanda's broader intentions include attracting fund managers and other firms. Visa Inc., the global payments technology firm, has picked Rwanda to deploy a new mobile money system.

Alongside the government, BRD's shareholders include local and private institutions, as well as development bodies from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

It was not immediately clear what the final shareholding of BRD would look like once the Atlas Mara deal was completed.

Rwanda has sold stakes it held in other commercial banks, including 45 percent of Bank of Kigali, via a stock market flotation in 2011. (Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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