Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Lawmakers say billions in debt written off

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Amid the frenzy surrounding the Rebar Asia Pacific Group (力霸亞太企業集團) scandal, lawmakers yesterday said that local banks have written off hundreds of billions of bad loans owed by a small number of people over the past decade. This indicated the need to disclose the names of heavy bad debtors in order to curb such practices, they said.

From 1997 to last November, local lenders wrote off a total of NT$375 billion (US$11.4 billion) in loan defaults by 1,471 account holders, with each account owing at least NT$100 million to the banks, lawmakers said, citing figures provided by the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) in a closed-door meeting hosted by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Yuan.

The statistics also showed that the number of individuals whose loan default exceeded NT$2 billion total 220, accounting for more than NT$80 billion, or 21 percent, of total bad debts written off.

The Finance Committee called the meeting yesterday, requiring the Financial Supervisory Commission to report on banks' handling of the top 100 defaulters in the past decade.

FSC Chairman Shih Jun-ji (施俊吉), who tendered his resignation on Friday night to assume responsibility for the Rebar scandal, attended the meeting yesterday.

The FSC report also showed that Chang Hwa Bank (彰化銀行) had the highest number of branches that had written off individual bad debts exceeding NT$2 billion. The bank wrote off a total of NT$21.12 billion in loan defaults by 54 account owners in seven branches, People First Party Legislator Christina Liu (劉憶如) said.

Mega International Commercial Bank (兆豐國際商銀) placed second with write-offs totaling NT$17.32 billion owed by 44 accounts in five outlets. Cathay United Bank (國泰世華商銀) was third with NT$10.95 billion by 28 accounts in five branches, Liu added.

On the largest amount of bad debts at a single branch, Taishin International Bank (台新銀行) placed first with more than NT$9 billion of bad loans owed by 36 accounts, followed by Taichung Commercial Bank's (台中銀行) NT$7.5 billion held by eight accounts and the Central Trust of China's (中央信託局) NT$6 billion owed by 28 accounts.

The unusually high amount of loan defaults at a single branch could be an indication of "unlawful lending to affiliates," Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said.

However, the names of the bad-debt owners were all encrypted in code by the commission in yesterday's meeting, which aroused the ire of the lawmakers.

"This does not help in cracking down on embezzlement," Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tang Bi-a (唐碧娥) said.

The Cabinet and the legislature are seeking to amend Article 48 of the Banking Act (銀行法) to allow the disclosure of the names of heavy bad debtors.

Liu recommended that the semi-official Joint Credit Information Center (聯合徵信中心), which compiles individual credit records, be charged with the task of disclosing information on heavy bad debtors.

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