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Even when the world is reeling under a severe slowdown, US private equity giant Carlyle group has raised its first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) fund. The fund, christened Carlyle MENA Partners, has equity commitments of $500 million. The fund plans to invest mainly in growing companies in sectors such as energy, financial services, healthcare, industrial, infrastructure, technology and transportation in the MENA region.

Walid Musallam, Carlyle Managing Director and Head of the MENA team, said in a release, “We are disciplined investors, and have been cautious about investing in the pre-global crisis environment of high valuations. The current market environment represents an opportunity for experienced investors to deploy capital at significantly more favorable valuations than existed last year.” Musallam, who is based in Beirut, was CEO of Abu Dhabi Investment Company before Carlyle. He had also been with with International Finance Corporation and Lehman Brothers previously.

The fund’s MENA team was set up in March 2007. The team currently comprises of 12 professionals and looks at investing in Turkey, North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia), the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), the Levant (Lebanon and Jordan) and Pakistan.

Carlyle MENA has already made one investment from this fund. This was done in July 2008 when the fund acquired a 50% stake in TVK Gemi Yapim Sanayi ve Ticaret A.S., a Turkish shipbuilder that specialises in the construction of chemical tankers.

Private equity players have been tapping the investment potential in the MENA region. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)appointed Makram Azar as managing director and head of MENA region last year in September. 

The Carlyle Group has $91.5 billion of assets under management committed to 66 funds as of September 30, 2008. The fund mainly invests in buyouts, growth capital, real estate and leveraged finance in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. It focuses on aerospace & defense, automotive & transportation, consumer & retail, energy & power, financial services, healthcare, industrial, infrastructure, technology & business services and telecommunications & media. The Group employs more than 1000 people in 21 countries.

Carlyle India, even though it does not have an independent fund, is headed by Rajeev Gupta.

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