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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 February 2019

Sawiris eyes investment in post-Maduro Venezuela and remains bullish on gold

The Egyptian tycoon may invest $300 million in Italy as the country looks to sell state assets

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is bullish on investments in gold. Reuters
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is bullish on investments in gold. Reuters

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is still bullish on investments in gold and is ready to expand his global investments as far away as Venezuela after embattled President Nicolas Maduro leaves office.

The man with a net worth of $5 billion (Dh18.4bn) according to Bloomberg’s Rich list, has invested across emerging markets and in some developed nations throughout his career, including setting up a mobile-phone operator in North Korea.

He sees opportunities in Africa and other Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina. In embattled Venezuela, Sawiris said he would invest “anytime” after Mr Maduro is removed from office.

Mr Maduro “starves his own people, he starves the whole country, he ruined the country,” Mr Sawiris told Bloomberg TV in Abu Dhabi. “He should leave.”

The Venezuelan leader has held on for years in the face of protests, a collapsed economy and international sanctions through a tight grip on the military and by cracking down on the opposition.

Even for someone with a proven appetite for risky assets, Mr Sawiris said Brexit has put him off investing in the UK. “Brexit is a disaster,” he said. "Europe is a big mess."

One exception in the European economic bloc is Italy, where he said he could deploy $300 million as the country, which has the second-highest debt in the EU after Greece, mulls selling state-owned properties. “The government sits on one of the most lucrative real-estate assets in the world.”

Mr Sawiris first ventured into Italy in 2005, when he bought mobile-phone provider Wind in what was Europe’s biggest leveraged buyout at the time.

“I had a very good experience,” he said. “I was treated fairly. All doors were open for a foreign investor from Egypt. I will never forget this.”

Mr Sawiris owns stakes in gold mines through his closely held company, La Mancha Resources. He told Bloomberg last year that he had invested half of his net worth in gold.

In a separate interview with CNBC, Mr Sawiris said the precious metal is making a “comeback”.

“I had predicted that at the beginning of the year and I explained the reasons why…. most of these reasons are happening now including a shortage in supply,” he said. “People understand that it's a good place to be safe. I'm still very optimistic even for further upside,” he said of the future price trends.

In terms of allegations by some countries on the use of Huawei’s technology for espionage purposes, Mr Sawiris said that “there is a genuine concern”.

Huawei have denied the accusations and said it follows the laws of the countries where it operates. Tensions between the US and China have escalated after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer was arrested in Canada last year at the request of the US.

“If I were Chinese. I might not take any equipment from Motorola for example, so nobody knows what's going to go on,” he said. “It will only be resolved [if] all the security agencies somehow swear on the Bible that they will not be spying on each other which I doubt they’d do. And if they do, who was going to believe them. So it's a serious situation.”

Asked about the potential of US and North Korean leaders coming to the table, he said he was “optimistic”.

“I work in North Korea and I understand the mentality very well and I think President Trump is [taking] the right steps now,” he said. “It's all about talking you know because when you talk to someone, you have to hear his point of view. It's give and take …. I think we will see some good news.”

Updated: February 12, 2019 05:14 PM

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