Dubai to pay debt with $10-billion Abu Dhabi handout

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DUBAI: The Dubai government said Monday it will pay $4.1 billion to cover maturing Islamic bonds issued by its Nakheel property developer after receiving a $10-billion handout from oil-rich Abu Dhabi.

The announcement prompted a surge on the Dubai stock market, which closed up more than 10 percent on Monday while the market in neighboring Abu Dhabi finished the day almost 8.0 percent higher.

The government later announced setting up a special tribunal led by a senior British judge to deal with claims against its troubled Dubai World group, the parent-firm of Nakheel.

The government of Abu Dhabi has agreed to fund $10 billion to the Dubai Financial Support Fund that will be used to satisfy a series of upcoming obligations on Dubai World, an official statement said.

As a first action for the new fund, the government of Dubai has authorized $4.1 billion to be used to pay the sukuk (Nakheel Islamic bonds) obligations that are due today, it added.

The nature of the fund, being a loan or a grant, was not disclosed.

The announcement came on the day Nakheel was supposed to repay sukuks worth $3.5 billion and the return on them amid speculation that the troubled developer would not be bailed out.

Dubai has worked closely with the central bank of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the government of Abu Dhabi to find a solution to the debt problems, said the statement issued by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, the head of the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee.

This included addressing and assessing the impact of Dubai World on the UAE economy, banking system and investor confidence, it said.

Rating agencies had downgraded several Dubai corporates after Dubai said on Nov. 25 that it wanted to freeze debt repayments by its heavily-indebted Dubai World group – liable for $59 billion – in order to restructure the largest state-run company.

The announcement clears the uncertainty that loomed over Nakheel s immediate financial obligations, but does not resolve the debt problems of Dubai corporates, said analyst Fahd Iqbal from regional investment bank EFG-Hermes.

The main positive of this event is that it removes the sharp uncertainty associated with Nakheel and also substantially limits systemic risk to the economy, he said.

Fundamentally, little has changed for Dubai’s outlook. We continue to see risk of further debt problems emerging in the coming months and quarters, he said, highlighting debt by the government-owned Dubai Holding and Dubai s investment arm Istithmar, which is part of Dubai World.

Monday s statement said that the remainder of the $10 billion will provide interest expenses and company working capital through April 30, 2010.

But it said that the latter will be conditioned on the company being successful in negotiating a standstill as previously announced.

The means that the company will still have to go back to creditors to restructure its remaining debt.

The remainder of the funds provided will be used for the satisfaction of obligations to existing trade creditors and contractors. Discussions with affected contractors will begin in short order, it added.

Dubai World had said earlier that not all its subsidiaries would be involved in the restructuring, pointing out that the debt of the concerned units amount to $26 billion.

The government later announced a decree setting up a special tribunal in the DIFC free zone financial centre to deal with claims against Dubai World.

The special tribunal will decide the disputes related to the settlement of the financial position of Dubai World and its subsidiaries, according to the decree, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

It will be chaired by Sir Anthony Evans, Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts and a former High Court Judge of England and Wales, and will also comprise two other judges, Michael Hwang and Sir John Chadwick.

Dubai s department of Legal Affairs explained in an accompanying statement that a special tribunal has been set because Dubai World, being a company established by a decree, does not have the ability to seek protection under the provisions of the UAE Commercial Code that govern bankruptcy and insolvency.

The once rapidly-booming economy of Dubai has been hit hard by the global financial crisis, which turned off the tap on easily-available foreign finance, leaving many of its companies high and dry with a heavy debt burden.

The total debt of Dubai government and its state-run companies is estimated at between $80 billion and $100 billion.

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