Sat, Mar 30, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Cypriot banking restrictions toughened

SHARING THE BURDEN:The added controls came as the Cypriot president announced that he would take a 25 percent salary cut ‘in solidarity’ with his suffering people

The Guardian, Nicosia

People queue up outside a branch of the Laiki Bank in Nicosia, Cyprus, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

The Cypriot government has warned that banking curbs to prevent money from leaving the country will apply for longer than expected, in a blow to the island’s attempts to revive its paralyzed economy.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the regime, including a limit on cash withdrawals at 300 euros (US$385) a day, would last for “about a month” — just 24 hours after the population was told they would only be in place for a week.

The capital controls, the first ever imposed on a eurozone member state, have been introduced to prevent a cash exodus that would destroy what is left of the Cypriot banking system.

“A number of restrictions will be lifted and gradually, probably over a period of about a month according to the estimates of the central bank, the restrictions will be lifted,” Kasoulides said.

A few hours earlier, he had said the central bank and the government would review the restrictions each day with a view to “progressive lifting of the measures as soon as circumstances allow.”

Capital flight has become a serious threat to the Cypriot economy because the terms of the 10 billion euro bailout from the European Central Bank, the IMF and the EU include a haircut of at least 40 percent on Cypriot bank accounts that hold more than 100,000 euros.

To stop account holders removing the rest of their savings at once, the controls include the cash withdrawal limit and a curb on how much money people can take abroad. Anyone leaving the country, whether Cypriot or a visitor, can only take up to 1,000 euros in cash.

Almost no country that has enforced such controls has done so temporarily.

Observers have warned that the measures undermine the purpose of monetary union, while there are few in Cyprus who believe they will be lifted soon. Many Cypriots were left confused by the controls, while expressing concern about the effect on their businesses and livelihoods.

As part of the bailout, the island’s second-largest and most troubled bank, Laiki, will be wound down.

People with more than 100,000 euros in their Laiki accounts could be hit with a levy of 80 percent — double the amount at the largest bank on the island, Bank of Cyprus.

“No matter how much information there is, things are changing all the time,” said Costas Kyprianides, a grocery supplier in Nicosia.

The news came as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades announced that he would be taking a 25 percent salary cut “in solidarity” with the Cypriot people.

A senior aide to the newly installed leader said Anatasiades’ Cabinet ministers had also agreed to cut their wages by 20 percent.

The move was met with derision. While many Greek Cypriots said it appeared like a deft move, they also pointed out that the British-trained barrister, who has a prominent law firm in Nicosia, belonged to a wealthy elite unlikely to be much affected by the island’s economic tumult.

In his most recent tax declaration, released to the public, the 66-year-old politician admitted that his personal dividends from the firm amounted to 500,000 euros, although he is no longer a practising lawyer.

As president, Anastasiades’ basic salary is around 110,000 euros, but with additional perks it is thought to be well in excess of that figure.

“I burst out laughing when I heard the news,” said Christos Neophytou, whose own legal practice is also based in Nicosia. “Anatasiades is a very, very rich man who after all has also used his political connections to expand his law firm. Like lots of people I am totally unimpressed by the decision.”

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