Bulgarian opposition warns FIBank could collapse as prosecutors take aim at major shareholder

Bulgarian opposition warns FIBank could collapse as prosecutors take aim at major shareholder
Days before their warning about FIBank's owner, Democratic Bulgaria projected the initials КТБ - denoting the now collapsed Corpbank - onto the Bulgarian central bank, as they called on the government to take urgent steps towards membership in the European Banking Union.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 14, 2018

Bulgarian opposition coalition Democratic Bulgaria warned on June 13 that a second bank, First Investment Bank (FIBank), could follow Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank) into financial collapse. 

The warning came amid reports that prosecutors are targeting one of its main shareholders, controversial local businessman Tseko Minev. 

The pro-Western right-wing Democratic Bulgaria made the claim at a press conference the day after chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov sent an open letter to the government, suggesting amendment of the concession contract with Yulen, the resort manager of Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, located in Pirin National Park. 

Although formally Yulen is owned by a person from Cyprus with no other visible assets, rumour has it that the real owner is Minev. This allegation was even made earlier this year by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. According to official documents, Yulen's owner is Georgius Georgiu, an unemployed individual from Cyprus, however many analysts and politicians have repeatedly said that he is a cover up for Minev.

This is problematic because according to Bulgarian law, Minev is not allowed to simultaneously own Yulen, which has used a large loan by FIBank to build the facilities in Bansko, and hold a stake in the bank.

According to an investigation by news portal Bivol.bg, FIBank has lent Yulen more than BGN1.2bn. Controversial businessman Hristo Kovachki, who has an energy empire, has also borrowed BGN300mn from the bank, while Peevski moved to the bank after Corpbank’s bankruptcy. None of these loans are being repaid, the portal revealed.

Prosecutors have raised a separate issue, that, according to Democratic Bulgaria and independent economic analysts could nonetheless put the bank under pressure and precipitate a run on its deposits if it leads to a collapse of confidence. Tsatsarov’s letter suggests that the government should amend the Bansko concession contract as Yulen is using illegally nearly twice as much territory for its facilities than the area agreed under the concession – a fact that was pointed out by environmentalist party The Greens in a claim filed in February with the prosecution.

“Yesterday the prosecution issued this position and in the same time the finance minister said that Bulgaria will apply for the Eurozone and the banking union simultaneously. Which means that soon there will be European banking supervision in Bulgaria and the existence of rotten apples [will be revealed]. I get the impression that soon citizens might have to protect Tseko Minev,” Mediapool quoted Atanas Atanassov, one of Democratic Bulgaria’s leaders, as saying at press conference, in an apparent reference to the use of public money to bail out Corpbank, which collapsed back in 2014. 

Corpbank, then Bulgaria’s fourth largest lender, suffered a bank run that deprived it of liquidity. The run was a result of a complaint by controversial businessman Delyan Peevski, who claimed that his previously close partner, Corpbank’s majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev, had hired three people to kill him.

The probe at Vassilev’s offices into the accusation led to the run and subsequently the bank was put under central bank administration and an audit showed a BGN3.75bn (€1.92bn) capital hole. As a result, the bank’s licence was revoked and the lender was declared insolvent in April 2015. The Bulgarian Deposit Insurance Fund (BDIF) has paid out BGN3.68bn in guaranteed deposits to Corpbank depositors since December 4, 2014. Vassilev is in exile in Serbia and is currently being tried in absentia. For his part, he has repeatedly claimed that he was a victim of a plot organised by Peevski and Tsatsarov.

Days before their warning about FIBank's owner, Democratic Bulgaria projected the initials "КТБ" - denoting the now collapsed Corpbank - onto the Bulgarian central bank, as they called on the government to take urgent steps towards membership in the European Banking Union. 

Speaking at the July 13 press conference, Atanassov also said that the prosecution’s actions will lead to a redistribution of ownership in Bulgarian banks, as Minev will be forced to sell his stake in FIBank.

Another of Democratic Bulgaria’s leaders, Hristo Ivanov, a former justice minister who resigned when the government watered down its anti-corruption strategy, said that the EU will start serious stress tests of Bulgarian banks and the “rotten apples” will become visible, which, he claimed, have been covered up by Bulgaria’s central bank.

There were already signs that FIBank was in trouble. The latest asset quality review (AQR) and stress test of the banks in Bulgaria, carried out in 2016, named Fibank as one of two banks that needed to build up additional capital buffers. 

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