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Cypriot committee suspends probe into bank transfers list

A man withdraws money from an ATM at a branch of Bank of Cyprus in Bucharest April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
A man withdraws money from an ATM at a branch of Bank of Cyprus in Bucharest April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

By Karolina Tagaris

NICOSIA (Reuters) - A parliamentary committee looking into who transferred money out of Cyprus before the island's banking system was locked down in March suspended its probe on Tuesday, complaining of not being given all the data it had demanded from the central bank.

Underscoring tensions in relations between the central bank and Cyprus's one-month-old center-right government, the government also withdrew the appointment of the deputy central bank governor who supplied the data.

Spyros Stavrinakis's appointment, made by the previous communist administration, was based on "faulty legal reasoning," the government said.

Cypriot banks were shut down for nearly two weeks to prevent a run on deposits by panicked savers after a bailout deal Cyprus struck with the European Union to save it from bankruptcy forced depositors with more than 100,000 euros to bear part of the cost.

Banks reopened on March 28 under tight restrictions and a cash withdrawal limit of 300 euros per day, but disclosures that capital was shifted out of the Mediterranean island in the runup to the lockdown on March 15 fuelled public anger.

The head of the Cypriot parliament's ethics committee, which was due to look into a list detailing transfers of more than 100,000 euros from the two major banks - Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank - said on Tuesday that the list fell short of what he had requested.

"It was with great disappointment and anger that, when we opened the envelope, we realized it contained data for only 15 days even though we had asked for a year," lawmaker Demetris Syllouris told reporters. "This kind of behavior is unacceptable."

In a letter to Syllouris, then central bank deputy governor Stavrinakis said he was only attaching a list of individuals and companies who transferred money out of Cyprus between March 1-15 this year.

"We believe your request would lead to a huge volume of information, which would possibly not help the aim of your committee," Stavrinakis said. This included foreign companies that transfer large sums of money each day, as well as Cypriots who bought property, he said.

Stavrinakis was appointed by the former communist administration three weeks before it lost power in a February election, a move the then opposition decried as political.

The main party in the new government, the Democratic Rally party, has for months claimed the needs of the island's now-crippled banking sector were artificially inflated to divert attention away from fiscal mistakes by the previous government.

"Actions in Cyprus and beyond over recent months resulted in making the needs of the banks larger ... some people rolled out the carpet to lead us to this," Finance Minister Harris Georgiades told state radio.

Syllouris said the ethics committee had requested a list of who transferred money dating back to a year because it wanted to look into possible loans given with favorable terms. He expressed doubt that the list he received, which included the names of about 6,000 individuals and companies that shifted money abroad, was complete.

"The wording of the letter has caused concern that not all names are included," he said.

Asked if it included the names of politicians or political parties, Syllouris said: "When we study it we will let you know."

(additional reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by John Stonestreet and Susan Fenton)

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