by Marian Draganov
SOFIA, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Amid the ongoing crisis with the fourth largest bank in Bulgaria, leading experts urged the Balkan country, a European Union member since 2007, to enter the eurozone as soon as possible.
The Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB) was placed under conservatorship in late June after its liquidity had been depleted, and the bank suspended all operations.
An audit by the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) found dubious withdrawal of some 143 million U.S. dollars and lack of substantial parts of credit records for a credit portfolio amounting to 2.43 billion dollars.
"Obviously, the issue of Bulgaria's accession to the eurozone comes on the agenda," Dimiter Brankov, Vice President of the Bulgarian Industrial Association, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
SUPERVISION AND OPPORTUNITUES
"Purely theoretically, hypothetically, if Bulgaria was a member of the eurozone (although there are examples of the opposite, you know them - in Ireland, perhaps Cyprus as a closer case), but anyway, the guarantee against such a situation would be nearly twice higher than now," Brankov said.
Bulgaria covers the key indicators for entry into the eurozone, such as levels of public debt, budget deficit and inflation, and Bulgarian politicians have to include this topic in their agenda, including for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, he said.
A favorable environment at the European level for taking this decision should be provided too, Brankov said.
Kolyo Paramov, financial consultant, former Chief Inspector of BNB, also was explicit that if Bulgaria was now a member of the eurozone, the situation with the CCB would not have happened.
"That would be an absurd for no other reason but because the bank supervision would be radically different. It would be under the scheme of the European Central Bank (ECB)," he told Xinhua.
He said that eurozone membership provides a settlement account that each day will be controlled by the ECB.
In addition, Bulgaria will be able to enjoy much more active investment funds, Paramov said.
"Third, all those who come to invest, from China, India or elsewhere, will know that here the rules of the ECB are in force, and their money is absolutely secure," he said.
Brankov in turn pointed out that joining the eurozone would provide Bulgarian businesses with better access to finance, reduce the overall, systemic risk, decrease interest rates on loans, and increase security in the business environment.
Furthermore, part of the country's foreign reserves, from 30 percent to 40 percent, could be provided for investment in the public sector, Brankov said.
Talking about the causes of the CCB problem, Paramov found serious problems in the law and the management of BNB.
"The head of the supervision of Bulgarian banks received a huge power that can not be corrected by the court, and at the same time, depending on whether he fulfills a political order or not, he may harm the banking system with his activity or inactivity," he said.
"This happened in CCB," he added.
Eyebrows were raised by the initial explanations of the central bank governor and his deputies that in 2011, 2012 and 2013 inspections and audits were conducted, but the banking supervision has not responded adequately, Paramov said.
"So, we have an internal organizational problem within CCB, a poor auditing link between the banking supervision at BNB, and lack of follow-up control, which is very important because the differences detected now provoke bewilderment," Paramov said.
INSOLVENCY IS NOT AN OPTION
Last Friday, the BNB Governing Council announced that solving the problem of CCB goes through revoking of its license and insolvency proceedings.
On the other hand, the law guarantees securing of deposits up to 100,000 euros (some 135,250 U.S. dollars) each.
However, the two experts are adamant that the state should first seek solutions that enable CCB depositors and shareholders to protect their own rights.
One of the options, according Brankov, is conservators appointed by the BNB to allow capital increase and involvement of new shareholders.
"They can be, if not entirely, but at least some of the creditors, depositors of the bank, who have expressed such an interest," he said.
Another option is conservators, after full provision of complete and reliable information about the condition of the bank, to start a plan for rehabilitation where creditors or depositors of the bank should also have a decisive say.
Paramov also has the opinion that the state should allow the owners of CCB to increase its capital and continue operations.
He added that large investors will not necessarily be compensated immediately, but it should happen.
"Currently, we experience a knockdown in terms of trust, and I am very afraid that if we implement the letter of the current law, there will be verticalised influence to other banking institutions, and hence things will get worse," he said.