Belarusian banking sector shakes off disrepute

April 22, 2016 18:25

U.S. government has imposed sanctions against a number of Belarusian banks, which hampered their operations. The new requirements for banks’ regulatory capital triggered the ownership change process for small and medium-sized banks. As a result, the Belarusian banking sector will get rid of banks with dubious reputation, improving the Belarusian financial system’s image.

On January 22nd, 100% of Onerbank shares were sold to the BCSE for EUR 5.1 million.

The new edition of the Banking Code, which took effect on January 22nd, 2013, set the schedule for banks’ regulatory capital requirements. According to the NB Board’s decision No 522 from October 30th, 2012, as of January 1st, 2014, the minimum regulatory capital for an operating bank has been set at EUR 15 million, and as of January 1st, 2015 - at least EUR 25 million. A number of banks in Belarus do not meet the new requirements and need additional resources to continue operations. 

U.S. government sanctions were introduced against two Belarusian banks with Iranian capital - Onerbank and Trade Capital Bank for supporting Iran’s nuclear programme. Sanctions against Credexbank were introduced in connection with allegations of money laundering in favour of fictitious companies. Sanctions hampered operations of these banks. Onerbank and Credexbank needed to capitalize on emerging regulatory capital requirements and as a result they were sold to new owners. 

In early 2013 the Credexbank’s ownership structure has changed. The bank’s new owner is Russian Starbank. The bank has been renamed into InterPayBank and it will focus on the development of payment systems and terminals in Belarus. 

On January 22nd, Onerbank was bought by two entities, not related to the banking sector of Belarus or the EU. Inter alia, the banks’ ownership has changed partially because of the sanctions against the bank. 

Thus, two of the three banks, just like Info Bank, have changed owners and following renaming and rebranding will no longer raise U.S. government’s concerns. Moreover, they will meet the new National Bank’s requirements on the regulatory capital and will continue operations in Belarus. The Bank Torgovyj Kapital meets the regulatory capital requirements, but it is possible that it will be pushed for ownership changes. As a result, the U.S. government will have no more claims to any of the banks in Belarus.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.