What is the billionaire from Arab Emirates going to invest in Kazan in?

On 2 February, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov met one of the richest UAE entrepreneurs – Chairman of Al Habtoor Group Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, who visited Kazan as early as 2010. The eight-year-old history of negotiations doesn't surprise – investors from Gulf countries usually spend much time while looking over projects in Russia. Realnoe Vremya found out which of them could be fulfilled in Tatarstan.

As-salamu alaykum again!

Speaking the press release's dry language, possible cooperation areas of the sides were defined in the Kazan Kremlin on 2 February: infrastructural projects linked with the construction of hotels, office blocks, promotion of Tatarstan industrial produce, halal medicine and food.

Representatives of Al Habtoor Group visited the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency, acquainted with some projects of the IT Park. What's more, their agenda included a trip to Kazan Arena stadium and a sightseeing tour on the territory of the Old Tatar Settlement. It's not told yet what projects the Arab side paid great attention to.

According to Realnoe Vremya's sources, the guest from the Persian Gulf was offered two land parcels for high-rise housing. ''It's a parcel in Kirov District and on the Kazanka riverbank, which is closer to the city centre,'' the interlocutor said without specifying the offer's details.

The agenda included a trip to Kazan Arena stadium and a sightseeing tour on the territory of the Old Tatar Settlement. Photo: Maksim Platonov

It should be reminded that Chairman of the group of companies Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor was in Kazan in 2010. Then he was offered four projects of Millennium Zilant City (the company doesn't exist now): construction on the right riverbank of Kazanka, multi-storey parking and two integrated residential construction projects – in the former tram fleet on Pavlyukhina and so-called B Quarter between Nazarbayeva (former Esperanto) and Kalinina. After the presentation, Al Habtoor noted that he would consider the offered projects in detail and stressed he was interested in close cooperation. Rustam Nigmatullin who was Deputy Head of the city's Executive Committee explained that the Arab side expressed more interest in the B Quarter project.

Rustam Minnikhanov and Khalaf Al Habtoor's next meeting took place in 2016 already during the Tatarstan president's working visit to the UAE. The construction project of a big world-class hotel with a culture and leisure centre in the republic was discussed during the negotiations. It was also claimed about the exchange between international schools.

One problem – to choose a project

Despite the Arabs's a bit prolonged period of eyeing, experts evaluate possibilities of cooperation with them positively.

''Indeed, this company has already come, and the negotiations have been lasting for quite a long time. Khalaf Al Habtoor is one of the leading developers and hoteliers of the UAE, so I think right this topic is raised in negotiations, in general. The problem always is to define a project that would suit them in terms of both volumes and payback. This kind of investors wants guarantees. And probably the question is that whether the government of the republic to provide them whose type and volume would fit the Arab side. Payback is a serious question, of course. In general, it affects all development projects. Moreover, it's more serious for foreigners, they're not our players and are more careful,'' Tatarstan Prime Minister's Adviser on Cooperation with Islamic Financial Institutions Linar Yakupov thinks.

''They are too careful. For instance, we see that international schools work, though they were afraid of investing in them first. This is why if Al Habtoor Group had already started working, they would have been fine.'' Photo: Roman Khasaev

In his opinion, investment options will be always found, only conditions that would interest the Arab side need to be given. ''They are too careful. For instance, we see that international schools work, though they were afraid of investing in them first. This is why if Al Habtoor Group had already started working, they would have been fine,'' Yakupov is sure. But now the expert hopes that the company is ''mature'' for investing. It needs to be separately noted that Khalaf Al Habtoor personally visited Tatarstan again. Yakupov supposes that the Kazan Financial District and Expo Centre could be on the list of the projects discussed at the meeting of Al Habtoor with the Tatarstan president. In general, a mixture of a business centre and a hotel is a more attractive option for investing.

Director General of Dan Group of Companies Ismagil Shangareyev, who has been living in the UAE since 2006, thinks that Tatarstan and Emirates manage to maintain quite active intergovernmental relations, they're so active that the UAE associates Russia with Tatarstan. In his opinion, investment opportunities come to the following: investments on the territory on Volga riverbank near Sviyazhsk where they want to build a settlement, recreation facility, hotel, make the territory more attractive for tourists. The Arabs are also interested in Tatarstan's industry: polymer production, helicopter factory, road building. In addition, such visits give a positive impulse to develop tourism traffic, Shangareyev thinks: ''It's big from Tatarstan to the UAE, but vice versa — it's not.''

As for long negotiations, one shouldn't worry, the businessman believes. ''They prepare for long but do fast,'' the director of Dan Group of Companies explained the logic of the Arab investors.

Yakupov supposes that the Kazan Financial District and Expo Centre could be on the list of the projects discussed at the meeting with Al Habtoor with the Tatarstan president

Amazed with Kazan

67-year-old billionaire Al Habtoor is a noticeable person. He comes from an ordinary family. He worked in one of the construction companies of Abu Dhabi as a teenager already and chaired it after graduating from school. Later he created his own construction and development company that started to be called Al Habtoor Group as time went by and became the leader in the construction market of Emirates.

Now Al Habtoor's business deals with not only construction and property transactions but also the sale of cars, insurance, elite secondary education and the media.

In November 2010, he shared his impressions of his visit to Kazan in a column in English-speaking Gulf News. Almost everything amazed Al Habtoor, especially Tatar hospitality and absence of ''social masks to relate to others'', cleanliness and ''organisation'' of Kazan and even restaurants in which he ''felt like an actor in a 1940s or 50s movie'': ''Their menus were so lavish and the surroundings so plush that they could have been dining rooms in a Tsar's palace.'' The Arab businessman called the Tatarstan president an ''economist, a great guy who comes over as intelligent and dynamic'' and advised ''ethnically and religiously divided Middle East can draw important lessons from Tatarstan.''

By Yulia Kosolapkina, Rustem Shakirov

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