Cyprus Mail

Church looking to create its own bank, planning six new hotels

Archbishop Chrysostomos

Archbishop Chrysostomos is looking for a small bank in which the Church would take majority shareholding, or create its own, and plans another six new hotels now that tourism is booming, he revealed in an interview on Sunday.

The Archbishop will also sell the Church’s remaining stake in Hellenic Bank if it does not begin to issue dividends within two years, and he is in talks with Carlsberg’s Photiades group on a possible merger with the KEO brewing and drinks producer, he told sigmalive.

In a candid interview on the Church’s finances, which are often a controversial topic, Chrysostomos said the reason it has not revealed its financial statements since 2007 was because some in the media would try to twist them.

The Church of Cyprus, he said, “receives five and gives ten”. “Particularly in the last four years the Church has helped hundreds of poor, sick and unemployed handing out money every year in excess of €1.5 million,” he said.

Chrysostomos said however that despite the financial crisis the Church had managed to increase its assets by €500 million in the period, and now had property worth in excess of €1.5 billion.

The Church had, he said “except for some crumbs” at Hellenic Bank, completed the process of restructuring its loans of around €100 million.

Asked if he still held to his position that the Church was done investing in banks, he said he wanted to clarify that he was only referring to Hellenic Bank and Bank of Cyprus. The Church has reduced its stake in the former from 25 per cent to 3.5 per cent and the latter from 4.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent.

He did not plan to offload the BoC stake as it was small, he said, but the Church was giving Hellenic two years to restore dividends before making a decision.

“Investment which does not provide for the allocation of dividend, I personally I do not want so if in the next two years Hellenic Bank does not grant a dividend, then will sell our stake for good,” he said.

He said the Church was examining various scenarios related to the acquisition of small bank “or creating our own bank”. “The only condition for this is that we want to control 51 per cent and not let others decide for us, without us.”

Speaking of other investments in Vassiliko cement and KEO, Chrysostomos said he was pleased with the former, which he called a growing and profitable company that “gives us a dividend”. It was also a company that respected the environment and placed emphasis on corporate social responsibility

“For KEO I cannot unfortunately say the same,” he said, adding that it had this year produced a small dividend but he would like to see it move to greater levels.

Asked he if he was thinking about selling the Church’s stake, he said: “Of course I think about it. What do I want with a company I have for years and does not offer me the dividend?”

He said he was in discussions with potential buyers and had already met representatives of the Photiades group because the ideal scenario would be if KEO was merged with Carlsberg as it would create a very strong group.

“No final decisions have been taken, but I hope that this agreement will be completed,” he said.

To a question related to the possible sale of Church-owned hotels nationwide, he responded: “You’re kidding. To sell hotels now that we expect record tourism? Not only will we not sell hotels, but instead we intend to proceed with the construction of six other hotels in Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca and Ayia Napa. Already, we are going ahead with a feasibility study and our goal is to pay back our loans for the construction of these new hotels over a period of seven to ten years.”

Asked about how he is often referred to as the CEO of the Church Chrysostomos said he primarily feels like a clergyman, and secondly administrator of the estate of the Archdiocese and definitely not a CEO.

If there was one thing he would change in the financial arena in Cyprus, he said it would be the public sector because the bureaucracy and unacceptable delays had not changed in 50 years.

He would also like to see ruling Disy and opposition Diko put aside their differences and cooperate more.
Evaluating people in public life he described President Nicos Anastasiades as working hard to solve the Cyprus problem, former president Demetris Christofias as the worst president in Cyprus’ history and former central bank governor Panicos Demetriades as “the destroyer of Cyprus”.

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