By Stelios Orphanides
Vladimir Strzhalkovskiy, the Russian businessman who until recently was one of Bank of Cyprus’s major shareholders who also served as its vice chairman, said that the acquisition of Russia’s Uniastrum did more damage to the bank than bad loans, and ultimately led to its bankruptcy.
“The situation with the purchase of Uniastrum was unique,” Strzhalkovskiy said in an interview to Russia’s RBK Daily. “The most brilliant people converged on the one side, and the most stupid on the other”.
Bank of Cyprus which regards the disposal of Uniastrum a top priority, attributed a loss of €269m from discontinued operations to Uniastrum alone in the fourth quarter of 2014.
The Cypriot bank had so far had “serious discussions” for the sale of Uniastrum in only one instance, Strzhalkovskiy said in the interview to the Moscow based business newspaper, adding that other interests emerged “more out of curiosity”.
He also said that while he would have wanted to see a related deal in December, what now is happening, “is unclear”. He added that the sale of the unit today was “difficult”. He also criticised the bank’s past lending standards.
“I have a feeling that people from the bank were running around with bags of money, looking for someone to give the money to and not caring whether it will be repaid or not,” Strzhalkovskiy said.
He added that some of the borrowers had the impression they were “just given” the money.
Strzhalkovskiy gave as hypothetical example of this practice the approval of a €100m loan for the construction of a golf course in exchange to a collateral “consisting of an agricultural field where potatoes and tangerines were grown” with a maximum value of €5m.
“And the money was given not in the form of credit lines, but in a once-off lump-sum payment, and I believe it was quite easy to predict that it wouldn’t be returned,” he said.
On May 29, Strzhalkovskiy, who was one of the depositors who saw almost half of their deposits turned into equity in March 2013 as part of the bail-in agreed with Cyprus’s international creditors, resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board of directors after selling large portion of his stake days before. The board appointed Maksim Goldman as new vice-chairman and Alexey Ivanov as new board member, subject to approval by the European Central Bank.
Strzhalkovskiy said that he decided to run for the new board at the annual general meeting in November because he was expecting that the new board would work “more strategically, more globally”.
“Unfortunately, the solution to the big important issues of the bank never came, even though I repeatedly advocated, insisted and stressed the importance of strategy creation” to determine in which direction the bank would grow. He added that the sale of part of his stake, which he described as “insignificant” was part of a previous agreement with Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, co-founder of Renova Group.
Strzhalkovskiy said that he hoped that the appointment of former Deutsche Bank chief executive officer Josef Ackermann as chairman of Bank of Cyprus in November would “positively influence the situation” of the lender. “It would probably have been better if we knew in advance of his appointment,” about Ackermann’s issues with the German courts.
The Swiss banker is one of the defendants in an ongoing trial in connection to the collapse of the Kirch media group.