x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Cyprus sacrifices top banks and hits rich savers to resurrect EU bailout

The eurozone struck a deadline-day deal with Cyprus today to resurrect a bailout for its government, but only after a radical downsizing of the island's financial sector.

Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus's president, centre, leaves the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels. Cyprus agreed to the outlines of an international bailout. Jock Fistick / Bloomberg
Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus's president, centre, leaves the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels. Cyprus agreed to the outlines of an international bailout. Jock Fistick / Bloomberg

BRUSSELS // The eurozone struck a deadline-day deal with Cyprus today to resurrect a bailout for its government, but only after a radical downsizing of the island's financial sector.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades battled for 12 hours with his eurozone partners and the IMF.

In the end however, he let one banking chain go to the wall and left major investors in the island's biggest bank — many of whom are Russian — take a giant hit.

Mr Anastasiades said he was "content" with the deal.

And the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands, insisted: "We've put an end to the uncertainty that affected Cyprus and the euro area over the last few days."

Under the terms of the agreement the island's second largest lender Laiki (Popular Bank) will be wound up overnight, an operation Mr Dijsselbloem said would deliver a €4.2-billion ($5.5bn) saving.

Small savers would be protected.

But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told journalists: "Unsecured deposits of more than €100,000 are frozen and will participate in the necessary recapitalisation" of the banking sector.

Loans to the government in Nicosia once the parliament there approves the deal in April, will total €10bn ($13bn).

The Bank of Cyprus, the island's biggest lender, survives — but it will have to endure a major "haircut" on all deposits of more than €100,000.

That is a massive blow to its major investors — and the bank holds the lion's share of the island's Russian deposits.

Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris conceded that Russia's reaction would likely prove "very complex", with "loyal international partners disappointed and disillusioned."

As the crisis unfolded last week, Russian leaders refused to supply fresh aid or extend a 2014 repayment date on an existing 2.5-billion-euro loan to Cyprus.

But the previous plan for a raid on all savings, which last week provoked angry responses from everyone from Cypriot pensioners to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been ditched.

Key details of the deal remained sketchy, with EU and IMF officials working out the likely percentage levels "over the coming weeks".

Mr Dijsselbloem could not say when the banks on Cyprus would reopen, nor when restrictions on cash withdrawals and other capital controls would be eased.

The banks had been scheduled to reopen on Tuesday after 10 days.