By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA | Fri Mar 29, 2013 4:16pm EDT
(Reuters) – Big depositors in Cyprus’s largest bank stand to lose far more than initially feared under a European Union rescue package to save the island from bankruptcy, a source with direct knowledge of the terms said on Friday.
Under conditions expected to be announced on Saturday, depositors in Bank of Cyprus will get shares in the bank worth 37.5 percent of their deposits over 100,000 euros, the source told Reuters, while the rest of their deposits may never be paid back.
The toughening of the terms will send a clear signal that the bailout means the end of Cyprus as a hub for offshore finance and could accelerate economic decline on the island and bring steeper job losses.
Officials had previously spoken of a loss to big depositors of 30 to 40 percent.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Friday defended the 10-billion euro ($13 billion) bailout deal agreed with the EU five days ago, saying it had contained the risk of national bankruptcy.
“We have no intention of leaving the euro,” the conservative leader told a conference of civil servants in the capital, Nicosia.
“In no way will we experiment with the future of our country,” he said.
Cypriots, however, are angry at the price attached to the rescue – the winding down of the island’s second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and an unprecedented raid on deposits over 100,000 euros.
Under the terms of the deal, the assets of Laiki bank will be transferred to Bank of Cyprus.
At Bank of Cyprus, about 22.5 percent of deposits over 100,000 euros will attract no interest, the source said. The remaining 40 percent will continue to attract interest, but will not be repaid unless the bank does well.
Those with deposits under 100,000 euros will continue to be protected under the state’s deposit guarantee.
Cyprus’s difficulties have sent jitters around the fragile single European currency zone, and led to the imposition of capital controls in Cyprus to prevent a run on banks by worried Cypriots and wealthy foreign depositors.
Banks reopened on Thursday after an almost two-week shutdown as Cyprus negotiated the rescue package. In the end, the reopening was largely quiet, with Cypriots queuing calmly for the 300 euros they were permitted to withdraw daily.
The imposition of capital controls has led economists to warn that a second-class “Cyprus euro” could emerge, with funds trapped on the island less valuable than euros that can be freely spent abroad.
Anastasiades said the restrictions on transactions – unprecedented in the currency bloc since euro coins and banknotes entered circulation in 2002 – would be gradually lifted. He gave no time frame but the central bank said the measures would be reviewed daily.
He hit out at banking authorities in Cyprus and Europe for pouring money into the crippled Laiki.
“How serious were those authorities that permitted the financing of a bankrupt bank to the highest possible amount?” Anastasiades said.
The president, barely a month in the job and wrestling with Cyprus’s worst crisis since a 1974 war split the island in two, accused the 17-nation euro currency bloc of making “unprecedented demands that forced Cyprus to become an experiment”.
European leaders have insisted the raid on big bank deposits in Cyprus is a one-off in their handling of a debt crisis that refuses to be contained.
But policymakers are divided, and the waters were muddied a day after the deal was inked when the Dutch chair of the euro zone’s finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said it could serve as a model for future crises.
Faced with a market backlash, Dijsselbloem rowed back. But on Friday, European Central Bank Governing Council member Klaas Knot, a fellow Dutchman, said there was “little wrong” with his assessment.
“The content of his remarks comes down to an approach which has been on the table for a longer time in Europe,” Knot was quoted as saying by Dutch daily Het Financieele Dagblad. “This approach will be part of the European liquidation policy.”
The Cyprus rescue differs from those in other euro zone countries because bank depositors have had to take losses, although an initial plan to hit small deposits as well as big ones was abandoned and accounts under 100,000 euros were spared.
Warnings of a stampede at Cypriot banks when they reopened on Thursday proved unfounded.
For almost two weeks, Cypriots were on a ration of limited withdrawals from bank cash machines. Even with banks now open, they face a regime of strict restrictions designed to halt a flight of capital from the island.
Some economists say those restrictions will be difficult to lift. Anastasiades said the capital controls would be “gradually eased until we can return to normal”.
The government initially said the controls would stay in place for seven days, but Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Thursday they could last “about a month”.
On Friday, easing a ban on cheque payments, Cypriot authorities said cheques could be used to make payments to government agencies up to a limit of 5,000 euros. Anything more than 5,000 euros would require Central Bank approval.
The bank also issued a directive limiting the cash that can be taken to areas of the island beyond the “control of the Cypriot authorities” – a reference to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus which considers itself an independent state. Cyprus residents can take 300 euros; non-residents can take 500.
Under the terms of the capital controls, Cypriots and foreigners are allowed to take up to 1,000 euros in cash when they leave the island.