JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, which is becoming embroiled in U.S. investigations of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal, is likely to weather the storm, bankers here said.
The bank, the largest in Saudi Arabia, was notified July 8 that the Federal Reserve Board was starting legal proceedings against it and its former chief operating officer, Khaled bin Mahfouz.
Its only foreign branch, in New York, was ordered to close by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which approved a 60-day liquidation plan. The office was charged, among other things, with failing to provide complete financial disclosures.
Impact Called Small
Bankers in Saudi Arabia said National Commercial, although hurt by the loss of credibility resulting from the United States move, was largely unaffected.
"It may look like an elephant in trouble but it does not stand on quicksand," one banker said. "It stands on the solid ground of a huge depositor base. It is also the principal banker of the Saudi royal family and will not be allowed to buckle."
"It is not another BCCI," said another banker.
Bankers said the country's powerful central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, would not allow National Commercial to collapse. "The bank is too big and too important," one banker said.
Mr. Mahfouz's alleged involvement with BCCI, which was closed down in a multinational sweep by regulators a year ago, focused attention on NCB's own failure to publish audited results since 1989.
Assets Little Changed
Unusual in being a private partnership and not a limited-liability corporation like most other big banks, National Commercial suffered the indignity last month of having its credit rating withdrawn by the only body that rates Middle East borrowers.
Observers said the problems had affected the bank's business in the past few weeks but this left hardly a dent in assets, said by the bank to be $22 billion at the end of last year.
A bank source put present liquidity at about $6 billion, some 30% of deposits.
Unaudited 1991 figures show the bank's business has not kept up with the extraordinary growth of the Saudi banking sector in the past three years.
While deposits and assets at most other Saudi banks have grown, sometimes up to 50%, National Commercial's yearend deposits fell 5.5% in the two years ended last Dec. 31, to about $20 billion. Assets fell 5.2% in the same time span.
The bank continues to account for about 30% of total bank assets in the kingdom.
Khaled bin Mahfouz has quit the bank, in which his father is majority shareholder, handing over his duties to his brother Mohammad.
Khaled denied any wrongdoing and said he would vigorously defend his reputation against allegations he misled BCCI depositors by disguising his sale of a major stake months before the collapse of BCCI, which was largely owned by the ruling Nahayan family of Abu Dhabi.
As a private parnership NCB is not obliged to publish figures in Saudi Arabia, although it must provide them to the central bank.
National Commercial's failure to publish results since 1989 is attributed by bankers to a significant number of nonperforming loans to many of the powerful in Saudi Arabia.
"You have to understand that it is impossible to call in such loans. NCB's only hope is that some of those people will be sensitive to its predicaments and pay up. That is if they are able to do so," one banker said.
Another thought it unlikely problem loans would be repaid in the short term.