Banking system is vulnerable, while recovery of stolen funds is slow, experts

The vulnerability of the banking system is due to nontransparent shareholding, poor management and internal governance, unsatisfactory internal procedures and rules and inefficient mechanisms for combating money laundering. The liquidation of these vulnerabilities should be the main policy of the National Bank of Moldova during the next two-three years, Transparency International Moldova and the Institute for Development and Social Initiative “Viitorul” say in a monitoring report on the developments in the financial-banking sector in December 2016 – October 2017.

In a news conference at IPN, Veaceslav Ionita, one of the report authors, said that starting with 2014 until present, a clear regulatory mechanism could not be identified in the banking system. The system does not fulfill its main duty – to lend money to the economy. The credit risk is also a major vulnerability of the banking system. In the monitored period, the number of non-performing loans rose by 65%, representing 17.2% of the credit portfolio, which decreased by 9%. The credit risk in 2017 continues to be significant. Special attention should be paid to the method of primary repayment of loans and the quality of the secondary repayment source, namely the quality and value of credit insurance.

Ex-minister of finance Veaceslav Negruta, another author of the report, said the economic effects of the banking fraud will persist for at least 24 years. The hurry in which that guarantee issued by the Government was assumed and the guarantee was converted into a state debt in September 2016 is one of the elements that generate numerous questions. A series of questions remain unanswered. One of them is why the guarantee was converted into debt when the first secret Government decision stipulated the period for which the guarantee was issued, while the second decision eliminated this period and this could become active only when all the measures to recover all the money from the three beneficiary banks have been taken. “We consider this moment hasn’t yet come as there are assets that can be recovered yet, including as part of international investigations,” noted Veaceslav Negruta. As to the Kroll investigation, the report authors said this is neglected by the competent authorities that investigate the banking frauds, while the second Kroll report is still being waited.

Investigative journalist Mariana Rata said that debts of hundreds of millions of lei of business entities that took out loans from Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala and Unibank in 2010-2013 risk never being recovered through the liquidation of these companies with the transfer of assets to offshore areas. Even if they know about these cases, the prosecutors haven’t yet initiated criminal cases concerning the involvement of judges in schemes to enable companies to avoid repaying loans taken from the three banks under liquidation.

Transparency International Moldova president Lilia Carasciuc said that on the one hand, there was adopted the legal framework that strengthens the banking system. On the other hand, changes were made to these shortly afterward. In such conditions, the question is whether the legal framework was amended in a hurry or the changes were made to promote group interests. “It was established that a part of the money has been recovered, surely minuscular compared with the total fraud. On the other hand, the money is recovered from the sale of assets. This is not the stolen money. And we thus see that the repayment of the stolen money will be made the people’s burden,” noted Lilia Carasciuc. According to her, the recovery of money all over the world is a complex process, but in Moldova’s case the people are told nice words so that they ultimately are made to repay the loans.

“Viitorul” executive director Igor Munteanu said the process of recovering the money stagnates and the authorities should provide answers to a series of questions. There is the feeling that particular high-ranking officials want rather the people to forget about this fraud and to provide alternative agendas so that the stolen money is not recovered.

The theft of the US$ 1 billion was possible through dubious schemes implemented at Banca de Economii, Unibank and Banca Sociala by issuing non-performing loans and aggressively attracting bank deposits from the population and by subsequently asking for emergency loans from the National Bank. In September 2016, by assuming responsibility, the Government approved the conversion of the guarantees issued in 2014 and 2015 for the emergency loans totaling 13.5 billion lei into state debts.

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