SHARM AL-SHEIKH: Bahrain’s Al Baraka Islamic Bank plans to open a sharia-compliant bank in France next year as the lender seeks to expand into Europe, Chief Executive Adnan Ahmed Yousif said on Sunday.

France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe but cultural and legal obstacles have impeded the development of its Islamic finance industry.

“We were in the midst of launching an Islamic bank in France, but with the global financial crisis the project was halted, so we are now looking to revive the project again,” he said on the sidelines of a banking conference in Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh.

Some Gulf-based Islamic banks that have expanded in Europe have gone elsewhere. Qatar’s Masraf Al Rayan owns Al Rayan Bank in the United Kingdom, while Kuwait Finance House’s Turkish arm opened its first branch in Germany last year.

Al Baraka, which has operations across the Middle East, Asia and Africa including Pakistan, Jordan and South Africa, also plans to acquire a bank in Indonesia either this year or in 2017 and was in talks with the Indonesian central bank governor, Yousif said.

Indonesia has been seeking to boost its Islamic banking sector, which is small despite being the world’s largest Muslim nation, by adjusting rules including loosening foreign ownership limits on local banks.

“We have a representative office in Indonesia, and now is the right time to buy a bank there,” Yousif said.

Al Baraka also wants to launch banking operations in China this year and is awaiting a decision in March from Morocco’s central bank about its plans to enter the market there, he said.

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