Bank of Cyprus tax on deposits delayed as crisis looms
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - A vote on a bailout package for Cyprus that includes an immediate tax on all savings accounts has been postponed until Tuesday evening.
Yiannakis Omirou, the speaker of Parliament, said the delay was needed to give the government time to amend the deal reached over the weekend that prompted an outcry from those who thought their money was safe.
In order to get €10 billion ($13 billion) in bailout loans from international creditors, Cyprus agreed to take a percentage of all deposits - including ordinary citizens' savings - an unprecedented step in Europe's 3 ½-year debt crisis.
The news was a big surprise and stoked fears that deposits in other countries could be targeted. Shares around the world and the euro took a pounding Monday even though the Cypriot economy accounts for only 0.2 percent of the combined output of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro.
"The damage is done," said Louise Cooper of CooperCity. "Europeans now know that their savings could be used to bailout banks."
The Cypriot government is now trying to modify the terms of the original deal and in particular to get a better deal for small savers with less than €100,000. The weekend deal foresaw a one-off levy of 6.75 percent on those savings, rising to 9.9 percent for those above the €100,000 mark.
Lawmakers in Nicosia are considering how to amend the deal without reducing the total €5.8 billion earmarked to be raised through the measure. One solution doing the rounds is to make the tax more graduated: placing a one-time 3 percent levy on deposits below €100,000, rising to 15 percent for those above €500,000.
Still, the government has a battle to get a majority in the 56-member Parliament - a scenario that could cripple the Cypriot economy.
Some 25 lawmakers from communist AKEL, socialist EDEK and the Green party have said they would vote down the levy that they had criticized as disastrous.
Any modification must be approved by the other eurozone finance ministers before the Cypriot parliament can vote on it.
"I believe (the levy) was a bad idea but they imposed it on us," Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris told reporters in Parliament Monday. Sarris said the levy was the least worst option since the country's euro area partners had insisted on a much larger savings cut.
Cyprus' banks were closed Monday for a scheduled public holiday.