NICOSIA – Fighting a reputation as a money haven for tax cheats and criminals, new anti-money laundering regulations are working on Cyprus but led wealthy Russians to pull their money with foreign deposits falling some two-thirds, the financial news agency Bloomberg said.
The value of bank accounts held by foreign nationals from outside the Eurozone plummeted from 21.5 billion euros ($24.78 billion) to 7.1 billion euros ($8.18 billion) at the end of November, 2017, the Central Bank of Cyprus reported.
The regulations, along with US sanctions against Russia and high-profile businessmen are having an affect, but costly to Cypriot banks who nearly went under in 2013 with bad loans to Greek businesses and big holdings in Greek bonds that were devalued 74 percent.
That led then newly-elected President Nicos Anastasiades to seek a 10-billion euro ($11.53 billion) international bailout and renege on promises, authorizing banks to confiscate accounts over 100,000 euros ($115,270), which hit many wealthy foreigners hiding their money but also the life savings of many Cypriots and small businesses.
“Russians are downsizing in Cyprus,” said Kyriakos Iordanou, General Manager of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Cyprus.
Bloomberg reported that the En+ Group plans to move to Russia from Jersey rather than to Cyprus as previously planned. En+ is the main shareholder of aluminum giant United Co. Rusal, a company of billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who is on the US sanctions list.
Accounts belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, who’s also on the US list and whose Renova Group is the largest shareholder in Bank of Cyprus, were frozen, according to the bank.
In November, a directive from the Central Bank of Cyprus kicked in, giving lenders less leeway to work with shell companies. That’s making many Russian companies “non-bankable,” said the news agency.
“Amid sanctions and tightening compliance, Cyprus banks prefer not to deal with Russian money and Russian clients, even those who’ve had accounts in Cyprus banks many years,” said Evgeny Kogan, former director of the Center for Protection of Shareholders and Investor Rights of Cypriot Banks set up in 2014. “Russian clients are becoming toxic.”