BREAKINGVIEWS-Brotherhood faceoff with Sawiris is bad for Egypt

(Corrects spelling of "Mursi" in para 3) (The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.) By Una Galani DUBAI, March 11 (Reuters Breakingviews) - There will be no winners in Egypt from a confrontation of the Muslim Brotherhood government with the Sawiris family. The country's Islamist rulers don't want to see billionaire Nassef Sawiris delist his firm, Orascom Construction Industries, and head to Amsterdam. Authorities have escalated a tax probe on the family business that could compromise the move, which won backing from prominent potential investors, including Bill Gates. The high-profile spat sounds a major alarm bell to foreign investors. Sawiris' bid to move OCI's primary listing to the Netherlands is likely to end in the delisting of one of Egypt's largest firms, with a market capitalisation of around $8 billion. The firm's global depositary receipts have already been converted into shares in the Amsterdam-listed entity, OCI NV. But the Dutch unit can't launch a mandatory tender offer for the remaining shares listed in Cairo until Egypt's regulator approves the deal. That's unlikely to happen until OCI settles a claim that it owes up to $2 billion of unpaid taxes relating to the sale of its cement activities to France's Lafarge in 2007. OCI insists the sale was exempt from any capital gains. Analysts tend to support this view, lending credence to the allegations that the claim is politically motivated. It was raised for the first time last year after President Mohamed Mursi delivered a speech promising to step up the government's fight against corruption. The unpredictable investment environment has already prompted an exodus of Egypt's billionaires. Nassef's outspoken brother Naguib has sold most of his interests in the country over the past two years, including Egyptian mobile operator Mobinil. Egypt's second-richest family, the Mansour Group, is in talks to sell the country's largest supermarket chain, Metro. The Egyptian government keeps saying it wants to reconcile with business leaders, yet its chaotic methods, along with a corrupt judiciary and newly politicised regulators, are creating more damage by the day. If Egypt's top homegrown entrepreneurs can't prosper in the country, foreign investors will wonder whether they should even bother to try. CONTEXT NEWS - Egyptian authorities have barred Nassef Sawiris, the chief executive of Orascom Construction Industries, and his father Onsi, from leaving the country as part of an investigation into tax evasion. - The order from the public prosecutor is part of an investigation into accusations they evaded about 14 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.1 billion) of taxes during the sale of Orascom Building, an OCI subsidiary, to French firm Lafarge, state news agency MENA said. - OCI says the Egyptian Tax Authority has made a claim for 4.7 billion Egyptian pounds and all capital gains resulting from the sale of shares listed on the Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) are tax exempt. - OCI is separately finalising a deal that will shift its primary listing from Egypt to Amsterdam and could eventually see the firm leave the Egyptian stock market. - The two-stage deal involved holders of OCI's global depositary receipts converting into ordinary shares of OCI NV. Holders of the firm's Egypt-listed ordinary shares would then be given the option of cash or OCI NV shares. - OCI has obtained commitments in excess of $2 billion from investors, including Bill Gates, to pay shareholders that elect to sell their OCI ordinary shares for cash. - The firm's shareholders have approved the deal but the Egyptian regulator asked last month for more information on the offer. - OCI has a market capitalisation of $7.7 billion. - Reuters: Egypt's OCI to discuss tax claim with authorities on Sunday - For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on (Editing by Pierre Briançon and Sarah Bailey)