Anastasiades Won’t Fire FinMin Over Cyprus Co-Op Bank Collapse

President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades. (Photo Stavros Ioannidis/GTP)

The closing of Cyprus’ Co-Op Bank wasn’t the fault of Finance Minister Harris Georgiades despite an investigative committee’s finding it was, said President Nicos Anastasiades, who said his finance chief wouldn’t be fired or forced to quit over that or the 2013 bank crisis.

In an interview published in Sunday’s Haravghi, Anastasiades again said the three-member panel had done a good job but that there were contradictions in the conclusions that he didn’t agree with even though he appointed the members in 2018 to probe the crisis.

The panel said if Georgiades had been moved the bank could have been saved, and that its failure was also the fault of Anastasiades.

The team was led by Giorgos Arestis – a former Supreme Court and European Union judge and included economist Giorgos Charalambous, a former Bank of Cyprus executive, former board member of the development bank and former head of the securities and exchange commission, and Giorgos Georgiou, a former executive at Alpha Bank and former Chairman of the bank association.

The Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) closed the Cyprus Cooperative Bank, the troubled state-owned lender, bringing to an end a banking history of 97 year with customers being told their accounts were being transferred to Hellenic Bank, which bought off a share.

It was another bank failure after the Laiki Bank closed in 2013 during a crisis which led

Anastasiades to break a campaign promise and let banks confiscate 47.5 percent of bank accounts over 100,000 euros ($112,549,) decimating small businesses and the life savings of many individuals, didn’t hold any bankers accountable as promised.

Anastasaides said: “In 2013 the co-ops were on the brink of collapse because of the NPLs that amounted to 7 billion euros ($7.88 billion.) If Harris Georgiades had been removed, would the NPLs have been serviced?” referring to Non-performing Loans.

Critics blamed Georgiades for the Co-op bank’s problems and said he sold off the good part on terms unfavorable to the state, including the issue of a 2.5-billion euro($2.81 billion) bond in favor of the purchaser and guarantees against unforeseen future losses.

Anastasiades said: “The Cyprus Cooperative Bank’s problems were neither created nor were result of political decisions by the finance minister.”

The newspaper Simerini, comparing the center-right Anastasiades to his predecessor, Communist Demetris Christofias, said the President was “steadily following in the footsteps of his predecessor, not only belittling the unanimous verdict of the investigative committee for the closure of the Co-op, but also through misleading references playing down the issue.”

The economic catastrophe of the country “is owed to the administration, decisions and orders of Mr. Anastasiades,” the paper concluded.

A columnist for the newspaper Phileleftheros, the largest Greek-language daily, pointed out what Anastasiades said when he appointed the investigative committee to look into the collapse of the economy in 2013.

“Political responsibilities are those which, if the conclusions are unanimous, leave no choice to the person being judged, not only to declare that he accepts them, but in practice to implement what political morality dictates, that is, resign and go home,” he had said.

Auditor-General Odysseas Michaelides, in an interview with Phileleftheros, criticized Georgiades’ refusal to resign, but wouldn’t talk about Anastasiades, although agreeing with the committee’s findings the bank’s collapse could have been avoided.

“For me, what is significant is the fact the committee, with clarity and without obfuscation, explained that the Co-op could have been saved and privatized in an orderly way and instead of this, because of mistakes, omissions, inaction, incompetence and criminal negligence it was led to a forced sale with the gun at its head,” said Michaelides.