Cyprus’ Banks Say They’re Tough on Money-Laundering

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2013, file photo. a man uses an ATM machine outside of a branch of Bank of Cyprus in capital Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

NICOSIA — Banks in Cyprus aren’t easy marks for criminals and tax cheats and have adopted some of the toughest anti-money laundering regulations in the world and should be recognized for it, said Association of Cyprus Banks Director Michalis Kammas.

He said that they are trying to reverse “outdated perceptions” that Cyprus is a haven for tax cheats and money launderers with the problem getting worse around the European Union where some 90 percent of the bloc’s biggest banks have been tangled in scandals.

Kammas said more rigorous supervision and directives have led to the closure of a “significant number” of bank accounts since 2014 and that regulations in place are making it easier to identify wrongdoers.

“Today, Cypriot banks’ procedures encompass some of the most advanced banking compliance practices globally,” Kammas told the Associated Press in an email.

He said international supervisory bodies like the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Transparency International have recognized Cyprus’ strong efforts but that the message hadn’t gotten through to some stakeholders, including the media.

Before a 2013 economic crisis created by banks having big holdings in Greek bonds that were devalued 74 percent, and in bad loans given to Greek businesses who weren’t repaying, Cyprus was viewed by critics as a place where banks could be used to hide money.

President Nicos Anastasiades, breaking campaign promises, let banks confiscate 47.5 percent of accounts over 100,000 euros ($113,970) to keep from going under and didn’t hold bank managers accountable as promised.

But Cyprus still is fighting a reputation for being used as a base for wrongdoers, now over a Golden Visa program that lets wealthy foreigners buy residency permits that give them unimpeded travel in the European Union and with criticism they aren’t being vetted to root out the corrupt and criminal.

Kammas said the crisis hit home with Cypriot authorities that they had to clean up the banking system and that pressure to do so had come “as much from political commitment within as it has from outside authorities.”

He said Cyprus is working closely with foreign supervisory authorities from the EU and the U.S. to ensure that financial sector legislation is fully in line with international best practices.

Some of the key reforms include obligatory face-to-face meetings between banks and account owners and strong regulations on disclosing the individual who is the ultimate holder of a bank account.

Earlier this year, Cyprus also introduced new shell company regulations that prohibit Cypriot banks from doing business with some entities that are identified as shell companies.

 

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)