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Bank of Cyprus: Big depositors may lose 60 percent

Bank of Cyprus depositors with more than 100,000 euros will get hit with an initial 37.5 percent penalty. Another tax of up to 22.5 percent could be imposed, depending on what the Bank of Cyprus needs to build up its reserves. 

By Menelaos HadjicostisAssociated Press / March 30, 2013

The logo of the Bank of Cyprus is seen outside one of its branches at Eleftheria square in Nicosia March 30, 2013. Cyprus says major depositors in its biggest bank will lose around 60 percent of their savings over 100,000 euros, under a bailout that has shaken European banks but saved the island from bankruptcy for now.

Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters

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NICOSIA, Cyprus

Big depositors at Cyprus' largest bank may be forced to accept losses of up to 60 percent, far more than initially estimated under the European rescue package to save the country from bankruptcy, officials said Saturday.

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Deposits of more than 100,000 euros ($128,000) at the Bank of Cyprus would lose 37.5 percent in money that would be converted into bank shares, according to a central bank statement. In a second raid on these accounts, depositors also could lose up to 22.5 percent more, depending on what experts determine is needed to prop up the bank's reserves.

The savings converted to bank shares would theoretically allow depositors to eventually recover their losses. But the shares now hold little value and it's uncertain when — if ever — the shares will regain a value equal to the depositors' losses.

Europe has demanded that big depositors in the country's two largest banks — Bank of Cyprus and Laiki Bank — accept across-the-board losses in order to pay for Cyprus' 16 billion euro ($20.5 billion) bailout.

Cypriot officials had previously said that large savers at Laiki — which would be absorbed in to the Bank of Cyprus — could lose as much as 80 percent. But they had said large accounts at the Bank of Cyprus would lose only 30 to 40 percent.

Analysts said Saturday that imposing bigger losses on Bank of Cyprus customers could further squeeze already crippled businesses as Cyprus tries to rebuild its banking sector in exchange for the international rescue package.

"Most of the damage will be done to businesses which had their money in the bank" to pay suppliers and employees, said University of Cyprus economics Professor Sofronis Clerides. "There's quite a difference between a 30 percent loss and a 60 percent loss."

With businesses shrinking, the country could be dragged down into an even deeper recession, he said.

There's also concern that large depositors — including many wealthy Russians — will take their money and run once capital restrictions that Cypriot authorities have imposed on bank transactions to prevent such a possibility are lifted in about a month.

Cyprus agreed on Monday to make bank depositors with accounts over 100,000 euros contribute to the financial rescue in order to secure 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) in loans from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. Cyprus needed to scrounge up 5.8 billion euros ($7.4 billion) on its own in order to clinch the larger package, and banks had remained shut for nearly two weeks until politicians hammered out a deal, opening again on Thursday.

But fearing that savers would rush to pull their money out in mass once banks reopened, Cypriot authorities imposed a raft of restrictions, including daily withdrawal limits of 300 euros ($384) for individuals and 5,000 euros for businesses — the first so-called capital controls that any country has applied in the eurozone's 14-year history.

Under the terms of the bailout deal, the country' second largest bank, Laiki — which sustained the most damaged from bad Greek debt and loans — is to be split up, with its nonperforming loans and toxic assets going into a "bad bank." The healthy side will be absorbed into the Bank of Cyprus.

On Saturday, economist Stelios Platis dismissed the rescue plan as "completely mistaken" and criticizedCyprus' euro area partners for insisting on foisting Laiki's troubles on the Bank of Cyprus.

Clerides said it appears that some euro area countries such as Germany and Finland wanted to see the end ofCyprus as an international financial services center, while others, such as eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, wanted to use the country as an "guinea pig" to send the message that European taxpayers would no longer shoulder the burden of bailing out problem banks.

But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble challenged that notion, insisting in an interview with the Bild daily published Saturday that "Cyprus is and remains a special, isolated case" and doesn't point the way for future European rescue programs.

AP business correspondent Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.

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