Moroccan billionaire Othman Benjelloun slammed the deal between Saham and Sanlam due to South Africa’s support of the Polisario Front.
Rabat – Othman Benjelloun, the chairman of Morocco’s BMCE Bank, has criticized the $1.1 billion deal between the Moroccan company Saham Finances and the South African insurance company Sanlam. Benjelloun, an influential voice in Morocco’s financial services industry, cited the political position of Pretoria on Western Sahara as the reason for his dissatisfaction with the deal.
According to Bloomberg, Benjelloun told reporters in Casablanca Tuesday, “We end up with a South African investor, owning a company that was Moroccan, on our own territory.” The 88-year old businessman continued, “We aren’t going to hide that we have not appreciated this gesture.”
Benjelloun’s anger stems from Pretoria’s support of the Polisario Front. The Moroccan billionaire stated the deal will garner his support if South Africa changes its stance on the conflict in Western Sahara.
“We will applaud the fact that Saham stays South African” when Pretoria changes track regarding Western Sahara, he said. “Until they do, they are not getting our support.”
Sanlam is South Africa’s biggest insurance country. Sanlam acquired Saham Finances in its largest acquisition on October 11, 2018.
We’re pleased to announce the conclusion of SAHAM Finances acquisition, our biggest acquisition to date, transforming us into a leading financial services player in Africa. The next 100 years start today. https://t.co/xnPvuEshLH pic.twitter.com/0BYrEj3pcP
— Sanlam (@sanlam) October 11, 2018
In 2016, Sanlam acquired a 30 percent stake in Saham Finances and increased its stake to 46.6 percent in 2017.The $1.1 billion deal turned over the remaining 53 percent stake in Saham Finances to South African Sanlam.
Sanlam is now present in 33 African countries. The company’s most recent acquisition establishes its presence in North Africa. Sanlam will take over Saham Finance’s 65 subsidiaries, 700 branches, and more than 3,000 employees.
Saham Finances recorded a turnover of $1.2 billion in 2017. At the end of 2017, Saham Finances consolidated net assets worth $850 million and earnings of $77.4 million.
The South African company Sanlam responded to Othman Benjelloun’s most recent criticism of the deal.
“Sanlam is confident about the strength and sustainability of its partnership with Saham Finances, which commenced in early 2016. The Saham Finances’ board, Sanam (Sanlam’s partner in Morocco), the executive team and staff are fully supportive of the partnership and our efforts to build a Pan African insurance group,” the group said in a statement.
Morocco and South Africa have long had tense diplomatic relations. In 2004, Pretoria recognized the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the legitimate government of an independent Western Sahara. Morocco’s ambassador to Pretoria hurriedly left his post in protest against South Africa’s decision.
In early March of 2019, Pretoria and Rabat made advances in restoring diplomatic relations. South Africa accredited Morocco’s months-long-appointed ambassador, Youssef Amrani, to Pretoria, breaking nearly 15 years of diplomatic stalemate.