Diamond’s Atlas Mara Receives Approaches for Africa Assets

Atlas Mara Ltd., the pan-African banking group started by Bob Diamond, has drawn interest from Nigerian and Middle Eastern lenders for its remaining assets on the continent, according to people familiar with the matter.

The London-listed group has received a number of approaches for its 49.97% holding in Lagos-based Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, the people said, asking not to be identified as the talks are private. Nigeria’s Zenith Bank Plc and Access Bank Plc are among suitors that have expressed interest, alongside other African rivals such as Morocco’s Attijariwafa Bank, the people said.

Middle Eastern banks and private equity suitors have also shown interest, according to the people. Some potential buyers have indicated they may acquire all of Atlas Mara’s remaining assets in Africa, which would include its Zimbabwe unit, the people said.

Atlas Mara has been working with Rothschild & Co. to consider options for its Union Bank stake, Bloomberg News has reported. No final decisions have been made, and there’s no certainty the deliberations will lead to a transaction, the people said.

Representatives for Atlas Mara and Zenith Bank didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Attijariwafa Bank Managing Director Ismail Douiri and a representative for Access Bank declined to comment.

A deal could bring down the curtain on Atlas Mara’s African foray after Diamond, a former Barclays Plc chief executive officer, misjudged competition on the continent and overpaid for acquisitions. The company said on Wednesday that it’s secured regulatory approval for the sales of its businesses in Botswana and Mozambique and received interest in other assets, without elaborating.

Atlas Mara also said it completed a planned restructuring proces, and extended a standstill agreement with its creditors to May 17 to complete necessary documentation. It’s still in legal disputes with two creditors, TLG and Norsad, it added.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need to reposition the company, which has seen a plunge of about 96% in its stock since it started trading toward the end of 2013. The firm’s stake in UBN, Nigeria’s sixth-biggest bank by market value, is its largest investment and seen as a foothold into the continent’s most populous nation.

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