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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monied Oligarchs escape as Cyprus crisis hits middle class

April 29, 2013 Angelica Azadyants, special to RBTH

Russian shopkeepers, small businesses and middle-class expats are among the victims of the island’s financial meltdown.

Oligarchs escape as Cyprus crisis hits middle class
Feeling the squeeze: Many in Cyprus took to the streets to protest as banks 
closed for two weeks and investors took a ‘haircut’ on their savings. Source: 
Getty Images
Although Russian savers of all descriptions, from private individuals and small businesses to corporations and institutions, have suffered in the Cypriot financial crisis, the effect is seen most starkly among the thousands of Russians actually living on the Mediterranean island.

Here, it’s not oligarchs but middle-class entrepreneurs who have been devastated by the crisis, and the EU-imposed “haircut” on deposits of more than $130,000.

“My business is more dead than alive,” says Anton, the 32-year-old owner of a foodstuffs distribution network in Limassol. “I was rash enough to keep all the company’s money in the Bank of Cyprus.”

It’s an all-too-common tale from middle-class Russians living and working in Cyprus, of whom there are 30,000 to 50,000 – mostly businesspeople, executives, and the Russian wives and girlfriends of Cypriot nationals.

A $13 billion bailout was announced last month in return for Cyprus agreeing to close Laiki Bank, the island’s second largest, levying all uninsured deposits there, and possibly around 40 percent of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus, many held by wealthy citizens of other countries, including many Russians. Insured deposits of $130,000 or less are not affected.

The seizure of deposits has hardly touched Russian oligarchs: Thanks to the intricate structure of holdings registered in Pacific and Caribbean tax havens and ingenious schemes of share distribution, the oligarchs’ money accounted for an insignificant share of deposits held in Cyprus banks. Instead, it’s small and medium-sized businesses that were most often caught out.

Georgy, 52, owner of a Russian goods shop in Limassol, says his business hasn’t been doing well since the last financial crisis in 2008.

"Unjust, unprofessional and dangerous.’’ (Describing the EU’s initial plan to levy a tax on depositors, rejected by the Cypriot parliament) 

“The more you squeeze foreign investors in the financial institutions of your countries, the better for us, because the affected, offended and frightened (not all of them, but many) should, as we hope, come to our financial institutions and keep their money in our banks. I am even glad, to some extent, because these events have shown how risky and insecure investments in western financial institutions can be.”  ~~~ Vladimir Putin, President 
“We were thinking of selling our business because it barely paid its way, and we’ve been running at a loss for the last month.”

Like other Russians interviewed, Georgy was reluctant to give his surname, because of suspicions among Russian businesspeople about talking to the media.

“I can’t imagine how I will pay the suppliers, the rent and the bills… we have far fewer customers, and they buy only the bare necessities.”

In this respect, Russians living here have been affected much the same as ordinary Cypriots, and Russian small and medium-size entrepreneurs mostly provide work for Cypriots.

Alexander, 40, managing director of a shipping company, says most of its 80 Cypriot employees – operational staff, logistics specialists and accountants – will probably be fired, or have to take deep pay cuts.

“The company is still operating, our ships continue to carry fertiliser, but the company has no capital left,” says Alexander. “Shock, horror and depression prevail.”

The other emotion, naturally, is anger – that the Cypriot and European authorities could conspire to seize depositors’ money in a way that Russian businesspeople would hardly expect of bankers back home.

“The seizure of deposits is simply expropriation, which I thought only the Bolsheviks were capable of,” says Anton. “To put it simply, this is daylight robbery, gentlemen.” More>>Russia Beyond The Headlines