Akel MP Irini Charalambidou is sounding a wakeup call to fellow legislators sitting on the House watchdog committee to follow up on the infamous list of non-performing loans (NPLs) held by Politically Exposed Persons – a matter that has been memory-holed since July.
In a December 6 letter addressed to her colleagues on the committee, of which she is the deputy chair, Charalambidou issued a call for action.
She noted that on November 27, Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) governor Constantinos Herodotou sent a second letter to House President Demetris Syllouris – the first letter of similar content was dated July 4 – reminding that the Central Bank can provide information regarding politicians’ NPLs on condition that the information has been requested via proper channels – a parliamentary committee – as provided by law.
“It is therefore up to us how to handle the matter, so that our committee is not left exposed before public opinion,” Charalambidou told fellow MPs – a comment intended to stir them to action.
It appears Charalambidou was away on November 27 when Herodotou sent Syllouris the missive, which was copied to MPs. She became aware of it later, on or around December 6.
The list of NPLs held by Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) has for months been ping-ponged between the Central Bank and parliament.
The document – marked ‘confidential’ – was first delivered to Syllouris by former CBC boss Chrystalla Giorghadji in April of this year.
Days later, Syllouris held a courtesy meeting with Herodotou, Giorghadji’s successor. At that meeting, Syllouris surprised Herodotou by handing him back the list and asking the CBC to process data held by commercial banks regarding delinquent loans held by PEPs and on possible circumspect debt write-offs.
Herodotou went back to seek legal guidance as to whether such data could be released without violating privacy laws. In July, he wrote to Syllouris informing him that it was possible and that the ball was in parliament’s court.
But from July through to late November, nothing was done.
In December last year, Georghadji had told MPs she had stopped looking into bad loans of politically exposed persons because she “got scared” when police seized her computers and questioned her.
Georghadji told the House finance committee that in 2015 she began gathering data on PEPs who had bad loans with Cypriot banks and that later in the same year someone had leaked a list of MPs and their loans at Bank of Cyprus to the press.
It showed that out of the 37 MPs listed, 19 owed the bank a total of €51.2m and 13 of those had NPLs totaling €35.3m.
At the time, furious MPs spoke of an attempt by the Central Bank to blackmail lawmakers through leaks to the press with information about their loan arrears.
Following a complaint filed by MP Zacharias Koulias – who happens to chair the House watchdog committee – that his personal data had been violated, police entered the Central Bank with warrants to search the premises.
Meantime in late August of this year the attorney-general issued a new legal opinion, reaffirming that Kedipes – the successor entity to the since shuttered co-operative bank – is obligated to hand over information as part of a probe into the co-op bank having afforded favourable treatment to PEPs in terms of loan restructuring.
In September it was reported that the co-operative’s internal audit department had found over 700 PEP customers of the bank were behind on their loan repayments.
The internal audit department tracked €134m worth of delinquent loans associated with PEPs, and also €9.8m in debt write-offs. In some PEP accounts, the account holders held sufficient deposits to repay their loan arrears but did not.