Cyprus Mail
OpinionTales from the Coffeeshop

Tales from the Coffeeshop: Taken for a ride as banking loses human face

Attorney General Costas Clerides

OUR SENSITIVE and caring politicians were inconsolable last week and unable to stem the flow of tears as the government pitilessly ended a century of ‘banking with a human face’ by dissolving the Cyprus Co-operative Bank (CCB).

The deal the government struck with Hellenic Bank smacked of desperation as it envisaged donating the CCB’s €9.7bn worth of deposits and €10.3bn of assets, including a €4.6bn loan portfolio (only €500 million of NPLs will be handed to Hellenic), to Hellenic, which in return would have to undertake an increase in its capital. The government also gave the buyer a guarantee of €184m for any potential damages.

Great investor interest was shown, the government announced, after putting the CCB up for sale. The bidding war caused by great investor interest never materialised and the government was happy for Hellenic to take a part of CCB off its hands for nothing. It also threw in the €184m guarantee in order to seal the deal, which also envisaged some 1,000 CCB workers moving to Hellenic.

Leaving aside the numbers, the question really troubling our politicians, is where would ordinary people now secure loans with worthless security as collateral that they would never have to repay. There is no other bank in Kyproulla following the co-op business model of banking with a human face. From where will the less well-off now borrow money to buy luxury cars they cannot afford? We will have a big social problem.

THE OBLIGATORY investigation – a universal demand of our politicians who are the only people in Kyproulla who do not know the reasons for the CCB’s demise – will now be carried out by the attorney-general. An investigative committee that will be supported by a team of experts will be set up by AG Costas Clerides but he did not say how many years it will take to issue a report.

Clerides was irritated by the politicians’ demands for an investigation to establish any wrongdoing – comrade Andros sent a letter – announcing he “knows his powers and authorities well and does not need encouragement or prompting from anybody.” The big question now is what period would he investigate?

Will he start from the early 1900s when the first co-ops were established and arrive to the present day, which I hear is Prez Nik’s preference, or would he investigate the events from 2013, when the state took ownership and management of the CCB onwards. The latter period is comrade Andros’ wish as the mismanagement and plundering of the co-ops by the parties, including Akel, and their supporters before the bailout would be ignored and all the blame would fall on the government for its failure to save the bank despite pumping in €5bn of the taxpayer’s money into it.

In the latter case, the government’s guilt would be assured, but the parties with their campaigning against foreclosures and for the protection of the primary residence would receive an honourable mention.

IT MIGHT never have been finance minister Harris Georgiades’ intention to lie but he got his plans and forecasts for the CCB so badly wrong so many times you’d think he was following the communications trick of his big boss, who had pledged repeatedly that the CCB would eventually be returned to its owners.

Harris often boasted that CCB was being run professionally and meeting its targets. He was also going to list its share on the Cyprus Stock Exchange, but realising nobody would buy it he said he would give 25 per cent of its shares to the bank’s customers. This was vetoed by Europe even though it was questionable whether anyone would take CCB shares even for free.

I will not go into his occasional assurances that the CCB was doing well and that it would not be sold, followed by the government’s invitation for expressions of interest from buyers and subsequent claims of great investor interest.

The only man to receive a prison sentence for the 2013 collapse of the banking sector and the economy was Bank of Cyprus CEO Andreas Eliades. He was found guilty of misleading the bank’s shareholders at the AGM in June 2012, by saying the capital requirements were €200m when in fact they were closer to €500m.

I do not for a minute wish Harris a similar fate, because I suspect he was acting on instructions from his boss when assuring the public the CCB was doing well. The €5bn bill the taxpayer was left with and the giving away half of the bank for free indicates we were not misled, but taken for a ride, perfectly acceptable in Kyproulla politics.

Missing in action: Crystal Georghadji

WHERE was the governor the Central Bank Crystal Georghadji while the government was dissolving a systemic bank and arranging for it to be taken over by another bank? We have not heard or seen the Central Bank governor for years, which makes us wonder if she actually exists or is just a figment of our imagination. Is she on permanent sick leave?

Why are we paying Crystal some €150,000 a year to be a non-existent governor and to be in hiding when the banking sector is undergoing dramatic change? If she is not up to job and feels out of her depth she should have the decency to tender her resignation instead of taking a big fat salary for being a phantom governor.

THE BULLIES of the bank employees’ union wasted little time in trying to secure some advantage for Etyk from the CCB fiasco. The union announced it was demanding between 100K and 200K euro as compensation for those who opted for the voluntary retirement scheme through which the CCB planned to get rid of 900 workers.

What Etyk was demanding was five years’ salaries, insisting also that everyone should be eligible to apply. In effect, it was supporting the right of former Bank of Cyprus employees that had taken the early retirement package of 100 to 150 grand and were now working for the CCB to apply for another early retirement package, something the other unions oppose.

In fact the other two unions, Sek and Peo, which also represent CCB workers do not agree with Etyk’s ludicrous compensation demand. Etyk has set the stakes high in order undermine Sek and Peo in the eyes of CCB workers in the hope of signing them up. When former CCB workers belonging to the two unions move to Hellenic Etyk would cease being the only union representing bank employees and fears its fascistic, monopolistic power would be diminished.

ETYK’S ludicrous demands have helped the government because it can now pretend it will not give in to the unions. A report in yesterday’s Politis, quoting official sources, said there was no way such high compensations would be paid and that a maximum of 100k per worker had been set, as if this were reasonable. The CCB has set a budget limit of €100m for workers’ compensations, the paper reported. Only a bankrupt company owned by the state can afford to squander €100m in workers’ compensations.

ODYSSEAS’ personal vendetta against law commissioner Leda Koursoumba continued at the legislature on Thursday where he made new revelations about her husband’s dealings with the Co-op Central Bank that dated back to 2003.

Odysseas went through Andreas Koursoumbas’ dealings with the bank from 2003 to 2017 and accused him of being a strategic defaulter and alleging he made false statements about his income. He also warned that he would inform the CCB that its decision to write off €37,000 from Koursoumbas’ loan could “be the result of false pretences.”

The guy is scary and his message to all officials is very clear – ‘Dare to stand up to me and if I don’t find any dirt on you, I will come after your spouse.’ Nobody will accuse Odysseas of abusing his power to settle personal scores, fearing he would go after their nearest and dearest if he fails to bully them into submission.

Chief bean counter Odysseas Michaelides

THE MORALLY superior Odysseas recently related the following story to CyBC TV show Proti Ekpombi to illustrate that he also has a human side. He said he had sat with a minister to discuss something over a cup of coffee and they bickered over who would pay for the coffees.

In the end, the minister paid for them. In the audit he carried out of the ministry, some time later, Odysseas said he found a receipt for the coffee he had been bought by the minister. He used this example to explain the lack of respect for public money. That he remembered to check a coffee bill amounting to three or four euro many months later says it all about the guy’s bean-counting qualities. The coffee auditor has not accused the minister of wasting the taxpayer’s money on coffees but given the opportunity he will.

THE CYPRIOT lobby in the US may have finally found a way of influencing the White House and securing presidential backing for a fair and just solution to the Cyprob. After 40 years of failure in this regard, PSEKA (International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus) may have discovered the magic formula.

PSEKA held its 34th Annual Conference at the Trump International Hotel Washington DC in March. The conference received a big write-up on the Daily Beast website, which quoted Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as saying: “This seems like a prime example of a special interest hoping that they can influence the president, in part, by bringing business to him.”

In his opening remarks to the conference President of Pseka Philip Christopher said “Trump is not a politician and we hope that he can get the message.” Book a few more conferences at Trump International Hotel and President Trump might call for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from Kyproulla in one of his tweets. At last, there is some hope for us.

I HOPE the foreign ministry will send another note verbale to the ambassadors who ignored the first note verbale and attended the ceremony for the completion of conservation work, funded by the EU, at the Ravelin/Land Gate in the old Famagusta town. Our informer spotted the ambassadors of Italy, Germany, Ireland, Austria and Britain at the ceremony even though he admitted there may have been others he did not know. I hope the perm sec at the foreign ministry calls them in to express his dissatisfaction with their behaviour and that Phillip Christopher will report them to Donald Trump.

THE TAXISNET state service for tax payments is supposed to have 10 or 12 lines to answer queries from the public. One of our customers still could not get through last Tuesday morning despite calling the service for hours. She also got five members of her office staff calling at the same time but not one of them got through in a two-hour spell and this is not even the busy time of the year, the deadline for submissions being October. Does Taxisnet actually employ anyone to answer phone calls or are its lines always unmanned?

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