RZB boss warns of overestimating HGAA scam

Raiffeisenzentralbank (RZB) head Walter Rothensteiner has appealed to people not to “overestimate” investigations of the near collapse of Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA).Rothensteiner said today (Thurs) the Austrian financial sector’s reputation would not suffer because of embezzlement and fraud investigations of dozens of politicians and former bankers responsible for the actions of the bank that was nationalised last year.”Europe has seen bigger cases than HGAA in the past two years. Now it’s the turn of juridical authorities. But the whole issue must not be overestimated. HGAA was, compared to other Austrian banks, a small bank. Things that happened there did not happen at other banks,” he told Kurier.Asked whether it was the wrong decision not to have checked medium-sized and small institutes as part of the European Union’s (EU) recent stress test for banks, Rothensteiner argued: “The three investigated Austrian banks (Erste Bank, UniCredit subsidiary Bank Austria (BA) and RZB) comprise almost 60 per cent of the annual net assets of the country’s financial sector. Their good results confirm its stability.”Speaking about the bank solidarity tax the Austrian government plans to introduce next year, Rothensteiner said: “All institutes in Austria that can afford it should do their part in shoring up the state budget. I don’t see this issue as a specific banks-only one.”The RZB boss added: “I don’t want to give politicians advice, but I think we need a mix of measures bearable for everyone across the country. You won’t be able to get the state budget in order with a 500-million-Euro bank tax.”Representatives of the coalition formed by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) have met with bank officials to discuss details of the planned levy. SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann described the upcoming tax as an “appropriate measure” considering the billions of state aid the country’s biggest banks have received since the global crisis kicked in.Speaking about Hungary’s upcoming bank tax – which will force banks active in the country to hand over 0.45 per cent of their annual net assets – Rothensteiner warned: “Hungary will steadily ruin its financial sector with this isolated tax.”He added that he favoured a global tax, expressing doubts about a possible EU-wide levy on financial transactions “since all big banks have branches in Singapore, Hong Kong or some islands”.Rothensteiner’s remarks come days after Herbert Stepic – who heads RZB’s Eastern European (EE) business branch Raiffeisen International (RI) – branded the Hungarian bank tax the “worst thing to happen”.Stepic warned that the new levy would have only negative consequences for the country but added that RI would nevertheless not pull out of the financially struggling country that joined the EU in 2004.RZB is Austria’s biggest private employer. One in 10 Euros generated in Austria can be attributed to the bank. It has around 2,200 branches in Austria and holds interests in insurance firms, newspapers and companies active in the tourism industry.RZB and RI merged earlier this year – only five years after RI had separated from RZB. This decision tempted business media to speculate over whether the firms were in financial difficulties following the economic downturn in EE, where RI is one of the biggest investors. RI’s earnings before interest and taxes (Ebit) plunged from 1.43 billion Euros in 2008 to 368 million Euros last year.