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Belgium economic expert says Islamic finance to grow in the West

By Nawab Khan BRUSSELS, July 3 (KUNA) -- A Belgian academic and economist launched last December a global network of Islamic Finance lawyers to give legal advice in all aspects of Islamic Finance.
The project called Islamic Finance Lawyers (IsFin) is based on macro-economic observations that money today is mainly in the hands of Islamic financing investors, said Laurent Marliere, a professor in marketing and general manager of IsFin.
Speaking to the Kuwait news agency (KUNA) he explained that there are two reasons for this, high price of oil and secondly the ethical issue.
"The Islamic banks have not been shaken by the credit crunch because they had no toxic products so they are also very strong," he said.
"Islamic finance is fast growing area of finance. Islamic finance is new to the western world. It is going to grow. This is an area moving fast," said Marliere who has written a dozen books on economics and has 20 years experience working with international law firms.
Asked how he came to the idea of Islamic finance the Belgian academic replied that he had specific interest in the subject and he did a one-year course on Islamic finance.
"I felt the gap in the market. There are only about a dozen global law firms that help Islamic investors do their legal expertise," he explained.
"The most difficult aspect is to find lawyers specialising in Islamic finance in the western world. It is easy to find a specialist in Kuala Lumpur or Dubai but not here," said the Belgian economist.
"If you seek a lawyer for example in Sweden on sukuk (Islamic bond) investment it will be very difficult. But we have a specialized local lawyer who understand the technicality and culture of Islamic finance," he asserted.
He said Islamic investors today are seeking more secure and stable investments so they seek investments in European countries like Sweden France Germany.
In Europe IsFin has 15 large and reputed law firms as members.
He gave as an example that their member in Spain, CUATRECASAS, has as their clients the Spanish government and also Kuwaiti banks.
Marliere stressed that "this is not an European project. It is a world-wide project. We are now opening up membership for law firms in the Middle East and Asia, "he said .
Asked why the project is based in the Belgian capital he repled that Brussels is home to many large international law firms.
Ines Wouters, a Brussels-based lawyer specialising in taxes and a partner in IsFin, told KUNA that one of the main obstacles in the development of Islamic finance is the tax issue.
"Islamic finance is something new and each country has different landscape related to regulations and taxes so the idea is how to implement in a particular landscape Islamic finance in order to make it effective, " she said.
Wouters said they have organised seminars for law firms on Islamic finance in Brussels with the participation of scholars from the Muslim world and the West.
"The legal environment in Belgium is actually quite friendly and there are real possibilities to develop projects which are Sharia-compatible either for Muslims but also for non-Muslims," she noted.
There is big demand here in Brussels of Sharia-compatible products and also how to organise business in Shari-compatible way, she added. (end) nk.asa KUNA 031348 Jul 11NNNN