|Political alarm lingers despite revised Cyprus plan to exempt small depositors from levy
Cypriot government officials sought to alleviate the pain on small savers from a plan to raid bank deposits that has caused outrage in the country and sent jitters through European financial markets.
Just hours ahead of an expected vote in the country's 56-member Parliament on the seizure of a percentage of deposits, officials sought to limit the impact on small savers. They even hinted that the country was looking to limit the amount it is to raise from the measure's imposition _ a move that could cover any shortfall from freeing smaller deposits from the charge, AP reports.
A new draft bill discussed in Parliament's finance committee proposed to spare all deposits below 20,000 euro from a levy. Those between 20,000 euro 100,000 euro would still be charged 6.75 percent, and those above 100,000 euro would be hit for 9.9 percent, in line with the original plan put forward at the weekend.
A vote in favor of the levy is needed if Cyprus is to get 10 billion euro in rescue loans from its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund. The levy is meant to raise 5.8 billion euro, which is part of the country's rescue.
If the vote fails to get through Parliament, Cyprus faces potential bankruptcy and a possible from the euro, which could reignite concerns in financial markets over the future of the single currency.
Proponents of the Cypriot account levy argue that this way gets foreigners who have taken advantage of Cyprus's low-tax regime to share the cost of the bailout of the country's banks, which have been hit hard by their over-exposure to bad Greek debt.
About a third of all deposits in Cypriot banks are believed to be held by Russians.
Opponents point out that a blanket charge on people's bank accounts will hurt ordinary Cypriots more, and could shake the confidence of all in the country's banking sector. And by going after deposits, European policymakers have set a precedent that could be repeated in the future. The worry of bank runs across Europe lies at the heart of the concerns in markets at the moment.
In a sign of the scale of disagreement over the deposit charge, the country's central bank governor, Panicos Demetriades, recommended that no accounts below 100,000 euro be touched. That level represents the amount of savings that are supposed to be insured if a bank collapses.
“We believe that deposits up to [euro] 100,000 should not be levied,’’ said Demetriades. “The credibility of and trust in the banking sector depends on this.''
Banks have been shut until Thursday to prevent a bank run. Demetriades said he expects at least 10 percent of deposits to be withdrawn when the banks re-open.
Demetriades stressed the importance of the bill being voted on and passing in Parliament.
“It's important for the future of the banking sector and the economy that this bill is passed,'' he said in the committee meeting, adding that “we believe that once trust is restored, deposits will return.''