FRENCH AGENCY TO TRIM STAKE IN TAHITI BANK

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 9) - French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru and a French development agency official have signed a protocol agreement allowing the agency to transfer 25 percent of its 50 percent stake in Tahiti's Socredo Bank to a private French bank. The agency is Agence Française de Développement, known by the acronym AFD.

Tahiti's government remains a 50 percent stockholder in the Banque Socredo, with the remaining 50 percent divided equally between the French development agency and BRED, one of France's biggest regional banks within the Banque Populaire Group. It also appears to mean the management of the Socredo Bank will remain in the hands of executives coming from French Polynesia, according to the agreement signed Monday.

The agreement signed by Temaru and Michel Jacquet, the AFD's operations manager, allows BRED to acquire AFD's remaining 25 percent stake within the next five years.

As a result, two men from Tahiti appear headed to run the Socredo Bank. Claude Periou is to become board chairman and James Estall is to replace Eric Pommier as Chief Executive Officer. Pommier recently was appointed board chairman of Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia's international airline.

The decision by AFD – a public institution that is part of the French system of Public Development Assistance – to transfer 25 percent of its stock to BRED does not translate into a disengagement from French Polynesia nor a privatization of the Socredo Bank, Jacquier said.

Instead, the move is in response to a general evolution within French Polynesia, the banking business, and the competition in Polynesia, he said. Above all, Jacquier continued, the move involves opening up the partnership to another banking entity that can bring with it a technical and methodological support in order to provide new services to Socredo Bank customers.

Temaru's signing of the protocol agreement represented a change in attitude on the part of Tahiti's president. A few months ago he was opposed to the idea of a private bank becoming a Socredo Bank stockholder. Fearing that such a move would result in lost jobs at the bank, Temaru wanted the government to become a majority stockholder.

Today, however, Temaru accepts BRED's partnership role. "AFD's decision to transfer 25 percent of its shares to BRED is not within our jurisdiction," he said after signing the agreement. "What we now need to have are friendly relations and confidence," he said, "BRED is a plus. It has its experience and its savoir-faire [social skill]."

The expected confirmed appointments of Periou and Estall as board chairman and chief executive officer, respectively, appear to indicate Temaru obtained guarantees of protecting local executives to run the Socredo bank.

BRED's Internet website reports a 13.3 percent increase between 2003 and 2004 in its net banking product, which rose from €538 million [US$98.1 million] in 2003 to €609.5 million [US$111.2 million]. At today's exchange rates, that was an increase from US$645 million in 2003 to US$730.6 million in 2004.

The website also reports that BRED was to finalize its agreement with the New Caledonia government last year to become a stockholder in the Caledonian Investment Bank in one of France's two other Pacific overseas territories.

As for the AFD, Jacquier said it has €500 million [US$91.2 million] in outstanding development loans in French Polynesia. He also said he plans to define with the Temaru government new opportunities for AFD to participate in the development of the French territory.

Under the control of the French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Ministry, the AFD is active in more than 60 countries in Africa, the Pacific region, Asia, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe as well as in French overseas territories. The AFD has a network of 45 agencies and offices worldwide.

February 10, 2006

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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