(Updates with addtional information in the second and ninth paragraph)
By Stelios Orphanides
Bank of Cyprus’s (BoC) board of directors which is meeting on Tuesday afternoon to approve the 2016 results is also expected to announce the successor to its vice-chairman Wilbur Ross, who on Monday got the US senate’s approval as new secretary of commerce.
The announcement is likely to be made early on Wednesday, a source said.
Still, even after his expected official departure from the Cypriot bank, questions over Ross’s ties to Russia, and a number of the bank’s major shareholders, continue to linger as the US press and public opinion are showing an increased interest in President Donald Trump’s connections to Russia, five weeks after his inauguration.
Ross, the US investor who made money by investing, restructuring, and selling his stake in Bank of Ireland in 2014, and subsequently led a group of US investors in participating in BoC’s €1bn capital increase that year, is still facing questions over his role in Cyprus’s largest bank, which includes a number of Russian shareholders linked to Russia’s authoritarian strongman, Vladimir Putin.
Trump suffered a major blow earlier this month when his security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after it emerged he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his conversation with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
According to press reports, Russia is considered responsible for the spread of fake news and hacking the email accounts of high ranking Democratic Party politicians ahead of the presidential elections in November, in an attempt to help Trump come to power.
US-Russian ties reached a post-war low following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula after its seizure by Russian troops three years ago. The US and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russian companies and individuals in response.
Following Flynn’s resignation, six Senators, Democratic Party members, asked Ross to answer questions over his ties to BoC shareholder Viktor Vekselberg, considered a friend of Putin, and Vladimir Strzhalskovsky, also a shareholder and former vice chairman who reportedly served as KGB agent in the past, the Miami Herald reported two weeks ago.
In December, Ross pledged to also sell his stake in the WL Ross & Co, through which he invested in Cyprus’s largest bank.
According to the website www.dcreport.org, dedicated to monitoring the Trump administration, there are also questions about BoC chairman Josef Ackermann, the Swiss national who served as chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank. As under Ackemann, Germany’s largest bank agreed to extend loans to the US president’s family business empire, the Trump Organisation, Ross is asked to clarify whether the Cypriot bank extended loans to the US president’s business.
A Bank of Cyprus source, who commented on condition of anonymity, said that the bank had no exposure to Trump’s business.
Ackermann who joined BoC months after Ross’s arrival, also holds a seat in the board of directors of Renova Group, Vekselberg’s company. In May 2015, Strzhalskovsky resigned from the BoC board of directors after selling a large portion of his stake days before. Both Vekselberg and Strzhalskovsky became shareholders after about half of their uninsured deposits were turned into equity in March 2013.