Cyprus Bailout: Savers Lose Money In EU Deal

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Anyone with savings in a Cyprus bank will lose some of their money under a ground-breaking bailout deal agreed by European finance ministers.

Bank customers will pay a levy of up to 9.9% on their savings, a charge which will raise nearly 6bn euros (£5.1bn).

Cyprus is the fifth country to seek a bailout following Greece, Ireland (OTC BB: IRLD - news) , Portugal and Spain but the terms of the deal are a radical departure from previous schemes.

EU finance ministers have agreed to lend the indebted island 10bn euros but in return the public will be forced to forfeit part of their savings.

Savers with more than 100,000 euros (£86,500) in the bank will be charged a one-off levy of 9.9%. Those with less will be charged 6.7%.

It will apply to everyone from pensioners to Russian oligarchs, who are alleged to have billions stashed away in what officials say is a bloated Cypriot banking sector.

Cyprus' finance minister Dimitris Sarris said in a statement: "We had to make some very painful decisions - and I believe that looking at the benefit of Cypriots and all the depositors of this age and the next, we took the less painful one.

"The problem of Cyprus is different to the other countries that are under the support of Europe. It's to do with the magnitude of the bank system and the danger that exists from the effort that Europe demands from us to do to in order to reduce the cost of the adaption of the new situation."

Private investors will also face a second hit under a "withholding tax" imposed on interest on bank deposits.

The tax will apply to all deposits held in banks within Cyprus, including an estimated 2bn euros (£1.75bn) of British money, according to the European Central Bank.

However, it will not affect deposits held in the UK branches of Cypriot banks, such as Bank of Cyprus, whose UK subsidiary is regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

More than a third - 37% - of cash held in the Cypriot banking system belongs to non-residents and the country has a large British expat community.

Queues of people gathered at cash machines on the island on Saturday as they tried to withdraw their money ahead of the move.

And the country's cooperative banks had to shut their doors after seeing a rush of savers keen to protect their money.

Savers could apparently withdraw money but were not able to carry out electronic transfers.

British expat David Symonds, who lives in Limassol, told Sky News: "Everybody was surprised. We were assured only a few days ago that the haircut on the deposits was a red line for the government.

"When we learned that it might become a possibility we were told it would only be on deposits above 100,000 euros. Now (Other OTC: NWPN - news) of course we know it affects everybody."

British Cypriot Andy Georgiou, 54, moved his life savings to Cyprus last year after selling his home in London.     

"I am extremely angry. I worked years and years to get it together and now I am losing it on the say-so of the Dutch and the Germans," he said.

Andri Menelaou, 25, had thought anything below 100,000 euros was protected by the state and said: "I don't have much but I don't see why I should pay for bank mistakes."

The move is expected to generate 5.8bn euros (£5bn) for Cyprus, which first applied for a bailout in June 2012.

Banks have already taken steps to freeze the required amount in deposit accounts and parliament is due to vote on the levy on Sunday.

Nicholas Papadopoulos, head of parliament's Financial Affairs Committee, said: "My initial reaction is one of shock.

"This decision is much worse than what we expected and contrary to what the government was assuring us, right up until last night."

Mr Papadopoulos, Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Party, which is a coalition partner in government, said he did not want to predict how parliament would vote.

"If we go ahead with this, there is a great risk it is not the end. The banking system will still face instability because it will face a significant capital flight," he said.

Cyprus was badly hit by the Greek financial crisis because of its close links to the country.

Its two largest banks saw combined losses of 4.5bn (£4bn) euros - equal to a quarter of the island's gross domestic product.

The rescue package was agreed after 10 hours of talks in Brussels and was significantly less than the 17bn euros (£14.7bn) asked for.

As part of the deal, the government will also have to hike corporate tax to 12.5% from 10% and sell off state assets to help balance the public finances.

Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said: "As it is a contribution to the financial stability of Cyprus, it seems 'just' to ask a contribution of all deposit-holders."

French finance minister Pierre Moscovici added: "We did what we had to."

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