RABAT- Attijariwafa Bank, one of Morocco’s biggest lenders, reported on Thursday a 57.5% drop in first-half net profit attributable to shareholders to 1.2 billion dirhams ($130 million), citing a surge in pandemic-related risks.

The cost of risk spiked 231% to 3 billion dirhams, the bank said, adding it had deferred payments on loans for 210,000 customers.

Net banking income rose 5.1% to 12.4 billion dirhams.

Morocco’s central bank asked banks to withhold dividends this year so they are better placed to deal with any fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attijariwafa operates subsidiaries in Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Tunisia and Togo as well as branches in Europe and the Gulf.

(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Mark Potter) ((ahmed.eljechtimi@thomsonreuters.com;))