updated 10/11/2007 12:21:09 PM ET 2007-10-11T16:21:09

A U.S.-funded corporation said Thursday it would create a nonprofit foundation to support the private sector development in Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries.

The Albanian-American Enterprise Fund, or AAEF, was created as a private company through a $30 million grant from the U.S. government in 1995. It said money raised in last year's sale of an 80 percent stake in the American Bank of Albania, or ABA, would be used for the foundation.

"The sale of ABA has created over $100 million of capital to be used for a permanent foundation to foster private sector development in Albania. This foundation can become the Gates Foundation of Albania," AAEF board chairman Michael Granoff said.

The Turin, Italy-based Sanpaolo IMI Group bought ABA last year in a deal worth $156.9 million.

AAEF investments include participation in the privatization of Albania's Mother Teresa Tirana International Airport as well as in banking, metalworks, garment and plastic manufacturing, real estate development and marble processing.

Post-communist Albania re-established diplomatic ties with the United States in 1991 after more than four decades of rule by dictator Enver Hoxha's communist regime, which was hostile toward Washington.

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