Monday 20 November 2017

Karen Coleman: I trusted a Cypriot bank with my cash once, but their reputation as a safe haven has been destroyed

IN the late-1990s when I was covering the wars in the Balkans, I lived in Belgrade for a year. At the time the notorious war criminal Slobodan Milosevic was in power and Serbia was a pariah state where Mafia and gunmen ruled with impunity. The black market was thriving and the local currency was worthless. Most of us traded in German Deutschmarks but getting access to them was tricky.

I was advised by colleagues to open an account in Cyprus – the go-to state for reliable banking in dodgy places. I duly met 'Ivan', a Serbian guy who was the local banker for a Cypriot bank. Every time I needed money he would arrive in my apartment in Belgrade with a black briefcase full of Deutschmarks. It was an unconventional but necessary way of banking and it certainly beat standing in queues for a worthless currency.

After I left Belgrade, I visited 'Ivan' in Nicosia, where he proudly showed me the bank where my money was deposited. It was a gleaming white building that exuded power and supremacy; an edifice of swaggering bling that seemed out of place on the tiny island divided by conflict and punctuated by poverty.

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