NEW YORK/RIYADH,(Reuters) – Citigroup Inc. said on Monday it is looking at returning to Saudi Arabia, two years after selling its stake in that country’s Samba Financial Group.
A spokesman for Citigroup said the largest U.S. bank has been doing business in the Middle East for nearly 50 years, and is “actively exploring” new business opportunities in Saudi Arabia.
The spokesman also confirmed reports that billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup’s biggest individual shareholder, met with Citigroup Chief Executive Chuck Prince to explore the bank’s reentry into Saudi Arabia.
The move is Citigroup’s latest effort to expand outside the United States to boost profitability. Regulatory problems have kept the bank away from major acquisitions in the last year.
Citigroup international consumer banking chief Ajay Banga told Reuters last month that his unit views Brazil, China, India and Korea as key areas for expansion, through growth and acquisitions.
Citigroup was said to be have bid for a stake in Turkey’s Finansbank . Greece’s National Bank said on Monday it will pay 2.3 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for a 46 percent stake in the Turkish bank.
Citigroup exited Saudi Arabia in 2004 when it sold its 20 percent share of Samba. Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding conglomerate is a main shareholder in Samba.
But Citigroup has been increasing its commitment to the Middle East recently. In September, it won approval to operate in Kuwait, and the bank has said it plans to open a branch there this month.