By Angelos Anastasiou
British banking behemoth HSBC representatives have given statements to two Cypriot investigators in London regarding the 2006 sale of the bank’s stake in now-defunct Laiki bank to Andreas Vgenopoulos’ Greece-based group Marfin Investment Group (MIG), police spokesman Andreas Angelides said on Tuesday.
Angelides added that, upon the two investigators’ return to Cyprus, Attorney-general Costas Clerides was briefed on their findings, and the material obtained is being examined in conjunction with the evidence already collected.
Police investigators have been looking into the causes of the banking collapse that hit Cyprus in March 2013, imposing heavy losses on shareholders, bondholders, and uninsured depositors of the island’s two largest banks.
Several former top officials from both banks are already facing charges over their actions immediately prior to the March 2013 meltdown, but a case against Vgenopoulos, whom many consider one of the key players in the run-up to the crisis, has yet to be filed.
“In the context of a legal assistance request, two investigators on the economy probe visited the United Kingdom, from January 4 to 9,” the police spokesman said.
“Statements have been taken from representatives of HSBC bank, and, upon their return to Cyprus, the attorney-general has been informed. The contents of these statements are being carefully evaluated, along with the rest of the evidence collected regarding this case.”
Investigators hope to find evidence backing claims that Vgenopoulos was able to secure complete control of Laiki by circumventing the rules.
Selling HSBC’s 21.16 per cent stake in Laiki would normally have required special approval by the Central Bank of Cyprus, which is not required for acquisitions up to 10 per cent.
During the 2006 mega-deal, MIG bought 9.98 per cent, the Tosca Investment Fund 8.18 per cent, and Laiki’s staff bought the remaining 3 per cent.
But it has been suggested that Vgenopoulos was actually behind the Tosca Fund purchase, as well – the implication being that he acquired a stake in Laiki over 10 per cent by proxy.
In the midst of finger-pointing after the March 2013 collapse, Vgenopoulos claimed in a televised interview that HSBC wanted out of Laiki because the Cypriot lender had been tainted by the Milosevic affair – an oft-cited but never proven scheme by the Serb president’s people designed to break the UN-imposed embargo on the regime by literally carrying money out of Serbia and into Cyprus, and laundering it through Laiki.
When asked why his MIG group would want to buy HSBC’s stake despite the Milosevic stain, Vgenopoulos said in the same interview “because they sold cheap”.