Dozens of loans in Swiss francs have been assigned by Postbank (Eurobank) to its subsidiary Bulgarian Retail Services, but have not been declared before the Registry Agency – that showed a check of Bivol, conducted on a signal of customers affected by the change of the exchange rate of the Swiss franc.
The appreciation of the Swiss currency worried borrowers as early as 2013 because the principal of their loans in Swiss francs grew proportionately. In early 2015, the Swiss National Bank (the central bank) decided to unpeg the franc and this led to a shock jump of 30% in its exchange rate against the euro. Problems arose in many European countries where banks were offering such loans, motivating customers with low interest and the stable rate of the franc.
In Bulgaria, the largest number of affected customers is in Postbank. They have organized themselves on Facebook to sue the Bank and are represented by lawyers Veska Voleva and Desislava Dimitrova. The borrowers insist that they never absorbed credits in francs, but only in euros. There is even a judge who withdrew from such a case because he also has credit in francs and declared himself “convinced in the rightness of the plaintiffs”.
Good loans in the bank, the “bad” ones – in the company
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The numerous documents which we examined suggest that Postbank has a practice to transfer such loans to Bulgarian Retail Services (BRS) when the rate of the franc goes up and there is a risk of customers stopping to service them. There are also cases of transfers back to the Bank when the loan becomes due and payable early.
However, only a very small number of assignments is entered for BRS in the Property Registry. For the whole of Sofia, there are only two assignments of credit from Eurobank to individuals, while there are way more such creditors in the Bulgarian capital. The failure to enter them leads to loss of taxes for the budget, but in addition, those assignments do not become public and cannot be detected by supervising bodies.
A check in the ownership of BRS shows that the company is connected to Eurobank through its main shareholder “Eurobank Household Lending Services”. The Member of the Supervisory Board of the Bank, Theodoros Karakassis, is also a shareholder in BRS and Member of the Board of the company.
According to lawyer Dimitrova, through these assignments, Eurobank intended to hide in its reports to the central bank (Bulgarian National Bank, BNB) its bad loans in Swiss francs. The central bank has been very skeptical of loans in exotic currencies and kept a close eye on them. As early as 2005, BNB Governor Ivan Iskrov made a public statement in which he warned that the loans in francs are very risky for consumers:
“A large bank recently hit the market with the idea that, you see, it is offering a very profitable loan in Swiss francs, while at the same time one must very clearly tell consumers that when it comes to loans in currencies other than the lev and the reserve currency, the euro, the currency risk can sometimes be very significant. For example, only within two years the Swiss franc has depreciated against the euro by 9.2%. And if you add to this cost the interest of 5-6%, it turns out that it would be disadvantageous to the borrowers to take such a risk.”
Bivol approached Eurobank with questions about the assignments to subsidiaries. What had created the need to assign loans to BRS? How many credits are assigned by Eurobank to BRS and what is their total amount? How many of the credits assigned to BRS and for what total amount have been properly serviced at the time of the assignment? Were the said assignments entered in the Registry Agency and were the relevant taxes paid to the budget?
Instead of answers to the specific questions, the press center of “Eurobank Bulgaria” sent the already disseminated official position and press release on the subject. The position says that Postbank “as part of its active efforts in recent years, offers two new programs for currency conversion to protect the utmost clients with exposures in francs”. The Bank promises that with the new terms “people will be protected from the sharp appreciation of the Swiss currency and in reality, the installments of borrowers will remain close to the levels of January 15, 2015 – the date when the Swiss franc sharply changed its course on international markets”.
In turn, the dissatisfied customers disseminated yesterday a press release insisting they are victims of fraud, since they have not absorbed in francs, but in euro and levs. “It is written in the contract that the loans in would be francs are automatically converted in a locked client account and they are given the currency that they asked for.” They also give a concrete example with Postbank: “Mortgage Loan № HL41 *** / August 8, 2008 – 140,130 levs received, 521,809.20 levs to be repaid, according to the BNB exchange rate as of today”. They promise to stage a protest rally in Varna on Sunday at 12:30 pm in front of the main branch of Postbank and a press conference has been scheduled in Sofia for February 3. According to those affected, the most appropriate way out of this situation is the so-called Hungarian decision. There, the loans in Swiss francs were converted in local currency at the exchange rate of January 1, 2015.
“In December 2014, we founded an organization of lawyers from 14 countries with the idea of a joint action by victims of fraud in francs. It turned out that the scheme is identical all over in Europe,” lawyer Dimitrova told Bivol. The “Franc Fraud,” according to her, is much more extensive and even includes forged signatures of clients. Graphology expertise has been requested in some of her cases. Signals have also been submitted to the prosecution.
Beyond these arguments, however, the practice of assigning bank loans to a connected company and not entering them in the Registry Agency seems too controversial. BNB did not reply with comments on these facts by the editorial closing of the article.
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