Cyprus Mail

Banks given until Monday to find solution to wrongly offset accounts

By Lizzy Ioannidou

IN AN extraordinary meeting on Saturday, the parliamentary audit committee gave the Hellenic Bank and the legacy Co-operative Bank until Monday to find solutions to 4,500 current accounts linked to p erforming loans that were terminated and not transferred to the Hellenic Bank, the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported.

The meeting, conducted in the presence of House president Demetris Syllouris, was called on Saturday to deal with the offsetting of deposit accounts against loan accounts by the Co-op, allegedly without prior notice to clients.

The chairman of the committee, Zacharias Koulias, said that too many accounts were closed either unfairly or illegally, or illegally offset, and unsuspecting citizens had been deprived of the opportunity to access their money at a time when schools were starting.

The Co-op had combined the balance of deposits accounts with those of non-performing loans, including some in the midst of restructuring loans and those on the point of signing new repayment plans with the bank.

MPs present at the meeting voiced their strong opposition to the sending of out-of-date notices by the Co-op informing their customers that their deposits had been offset with their loans, or that their accounts had been frozen.

Regarding the accounts that were not transferred to the Hellenic Bank and were therefore terminated, the Cyprus Asset Management Company (CAMC), the company managing €8.3bn of former Co-op assets including €7bn in non-performing loans, explained on Thursday that these were cases where accounts had a negative balance and were non-performing, or the owner of the account was directly or indirectly linked to a non-performing loan.

“Such accounts are not included in the deal with Hellenic Bank and have remained at the Cyprus Asset Management Company as loans to be collected,” the company said.

CAMC executive director Stavros Iakovou said on Saturday that there were a total of 12,000 accounts that remained outside the Hellenic perimeter, “of which 1,800 had already been terminated, while 7,500 were linked with non-performing loans with delays of more than 90 days”.

However, it emerged on Saturday’s meeting that among the thousands of non-transferred accounts, “there are 4,500 current accounts linked to loans, which according to our categorisation are performing loans, and therefore in these cases the intense reactions of clients of the former Co-op are justified,” Iakovou added.

Iakovou explained that these accounts remained outside the perimeter of the healthy accounts that would be transferred to the Hellenic Bank, but Hellenic was nevertheless considering transferring these 4,500 accounts within their remit.

“We may have made some mistakes that were limited and CAMC is available to those who have been affected to deal with complaints,” Iakovou added.

He added that if these accounts are transferred to Hellenic, all those who should have money available in their current account, with have this amount available on Monday.

Financial ombudsman Pavlos Ioannou, who was instructed on Thursday by President Anastasiades to investigate how thousands of Co-op customers unknowingly had their deposits offset against their non-performing loans, called the entire lack of management on behalf of the CAMC an “Aristophanic farce”.

Ioannou said that “since September 4, when the President of the Republic was informed about this problem, he expressed his deep interest in the whole situation and how it would be dealt with, and that is why he asked me to prepare a summary that I handed over to the House today, describing the problem and including preliminary suggestions for dealing with it.”

However, he said, even though these suggestions were endorsed and efforts have begun towards their implementation, their complexity is such that we cannot expect their enforcement in the coming days.

“It’s tragic,” Ioannou added, “that this is happening to ordinary citizens, pensioners, receivers of state subsidies and grants,” adding that in addition to the necessary good will of the CAMC, good will is also required from the Hellenic Bank, if this issue will be solved.

CEO of Hellenic Bank Ioannis Matsis said: “If it is possible to transfer accounts to the Hellenic Bank, we will do so,” adding that the issue was being examined until late Friday night and will continue to be examined.

Committee chairman Koulias expressed his hope that a joint effort will be undertaken by Hellenic Bank and the Central Bank in order to open the accounts of those affected as of Monday, and added that a new commission session will be convened on this issue.

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