A peek into one of the deepest little cesspits in Europe

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by David Malone

A squib from Bloomberg, quoting the German Newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung,

“Munich prosecutors plan to file embezzlement charges against all members of Bayerische Landesbank’s former board….”

Having the words “all former members” and “embezzlement charges” in the same sentence just makes my day. Ever since the worlds’ banks told us they were suddenly short of liquidity, the authorities who were supposed to oversee them, have been even shorter on balls than the banks were on cash. In fact regulators in several countries appeared to have had theirs removed almost as a requirement for getting the job.

So the Bloomberg headline is a thing to behold. The only other thing the article says is that Beyerishe LB lost 3.7 billion euros as a result of acquiring, in 2007, the Austrian bank, Hypo Alpe Adria. Which economy of reporting covers over a manhole which leads down into what is one of the deepest little cesspits in Europe. I say ‘one of’ because only a congenital regulator would imagine that Beyerishe is the only entrance into the sewer of European banking that ran a river of financial and political corruption, money laundering and dangerously shady arms deals from Croatia and Serbia to Austria, Bavaria, Italy and on to Ireland.

Beyerishe LB was either the witless dupe who was left holding a huge shit schnitzel or just the last in a long line of greedy and corrupt bottom feeding institutions who wanted the chance to siphon some of that fetid  underground nourishment for themselves.  I personally feel the latter is the more likely explanation for the Europe wide enthusiasm for buying Austrian banks. Austria, with its anonymous accounts had made itself into a major portal for dirty money seeking onward transfer into European banks. And European banks were drawn to Austria like flies to a sewer.

The fact is Beyerische bought a bank for 1.6 billion euros into which it had to immediately pour another 2.1 billion euros just to keep it afloat.  Which although it sounds blunderingly stupid is, by Bavarian banking standards little worse than average. Compare Beyerische to the saga of inept incompetence which surrounded two other Bavarian banks Beyerische Hypotheken-und Wecshel Bank and Beyerische Vereins-bank, whose billions in losses forced the shot-gun wedding whose issue was HVB (see Dominoes Falling from the East) and you wonder how Germany has any banks at all?

Today there is still another 3.1 billion euros of bad debts to be paid at Beyerische. The open question vexing both sides of the German/Austrian border is who will pay? Since Beyerishe sold Alpe Adria back to Austria for a whopping 1 euro it might fall upon the Austrian people. But it might still land back on Beyerishe and therefore on the German taxpayers. Both sides would love to find a way of claiming they were just innocent victims of foreign fraud.

How could Beyerishe have been so stupid?  Well at the time, buying Austrian banks was the must have item for any megalomaniacal European banker. After all Hypo Vereins (HVB), that other Bavarian bank, had got itself Bank Austria to play with. Bank Austria was the number one Austrian bank.  Poor Beyerishe had to settle for Alpo which was only number five.

And it wasn’t just the Bavarians. UniCredit of Italy got its snout into what was running through Austria simply by buying HVB as a whole and so getting Bank Austria as a subsidiary.

A German banker told me the Austrians bitterly resented the Bavarians buying up their banks and that the Bavarians in their turn had a deep loathing for being acquired in turn by the Italians.

And lest it seem that the taste for Austrian banks was limited to some axis of corrupt Mitteleuropa imbeciles let’s not forget Anglo Irish also had its own Austrian subsidiary. A subsidiary which, thanks to Kathleen Barrington’s work, we know had in it 600 million in cash deposits which Anglo sold for just 141 million to Valartis bank which needed a loan of 24 million euros in order to make the purchase. A loan Valartis got from…Anglo.  Hmmm?

My question is if any other authorities or regulators will feel emboldened and feel they too can belatedly start questioning the bankers they are supposed to regulate? I know questions have been asked in the Austrian parliament. Will they be taken further than mere questions?  Will someone in Austria have the moral rectitude to lift the lid on their sewer and see where it leads? Will the German’s pressure them to do so or force them to do the opposite if it looks like some of the dirt has ended up in German banks being bailed out by German tax payers?

And what about the Irish?  So far the Irish regulator has been a stand out disgrace.  When Senator Norris tried manfully to read the list of Anglo’s bond holders which I wrote about, in to the public and parliamentary record he was shut up.

“The names are Aberdeen Asset Management (London) Limited, AGICAM, Aktia Asset Management, Aletti Gestielle SGR, AllianceBernstein (UK) Limited, Allianz Global Investors France, AmpegaGerling Investment, Anima SGR…”

was as far as he got before he was interrupted and told what he had to say was not relevant. He continued anyway adding, “One Swiss bondholder owns 40% of the bonds and will get millions of euro from us..” at which point the debate was terminated.

There is a trail of disturbing facts, like crumbs of dry excrement, running from bank to bank, country to country.  All it would take is courage and honesty to follow the trail.

So many of the details of the dishonesty and bottom feeding are already known but scattered in different countries, that it cries out for a prosecutor with Europe wide powers and authority to be charged with joining the dots.  Will it happen? Of course not. We will have do it ourselves – with the courageous help of the few honest men and women such as WhistleblowerIRL who have spoken up and who may just give others the courage to do the same.