29 Mar 2013

Cyprus banks reopen, but strict rules apply

10:54 am on 29 March 2013

Banks in Cyprus have reopened, but customers are only able to withdraw €300 a day under the tough conditions imposed in an international bailout.

The controls have been introduced to stop money leaving the country following a levy on savings of more than €100,000.

Branches have been replenished with cash and police deployed amid fears of a run on the banks. Some queues did form but the mood was calm on Thursday.

President Nicos Anastasiades thanked Cypriots for their "maturity" and announced that he would be taking a 25% pay cut in a show of solidarity.

The restrictions on the free movement of capital represent a profound breach of an European Union principle, the BBC reports.

However, the European Commission on Thursday justified the move, saying the "stability of financial markets and the banking system in Cyprus constitutes a matter of overriding public interest".

Information from the Central Bank of Cyprus made public on Thursday showed that foreign depositors had already withdrawn 18% of their cash from the nation's banks during February, before the current crisis hit home.

Cyprus needs to raise €5.8 billion to qualify for a €10 billion bailout from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

As part of the bailout plan, depositors with more than €100,000 will see some of their savings exchanged for bank shares. An earlier plan to tax small depositors was vetoed by parliament last week.

Branches began to open at noon local time and would close at 6pm. Some did not open on time, causing tension. The longer queues formed outside branches of Laiki, which is being wound up.

One customer in a queue in the capital Nicosia told the BBC he was withdrawing the allowed daily amount of €300, but would take out all of his money if he could.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance insisted the capital control measures were temporary and needed to "safeguard the stability of the system.

The Central Bank of Cyprus and the government of Cyprus will review them each day, with a view to progressive lifting of the measures as soon as circumstances allow. "

Meanwhile, three former Supreme Court judges in Cyprus have been asked to investigate possible criminal activity in the Mediterranean island country's banking crisis. The government said they would examine decisions and actions at all levels.

Severe rules

The severe rules have been imposed to prevent a torrent of money leaving the island and credit institutions collapsing.

As well as the daily withdrawal limit, Cypriots may not cash cheques.

Payments and/or transfers outside the country via debit and or credit cards are allowed up to €5000 per person per month.

Transactions of €5000 to €200,000 will be reviewed by a specially established committee, with applications for those over €200,000 needing individual approval.

Travellers leaving the country will only be allowed to take €1000 euros with them.