The board of directors of the Army Trust Fund decided yesterday to accept the recommendation of advisers Rothschild and shortlist France’s Societe Generale and Greece’s Marfin Bank and Aspis Bank as finalists in the tender for a strategic partner for General Bank, in which the Trust Fund is now the major shareholder. After the invitation by Rothschild, the three finalists will proceed with due diligence, that is, with thorough examination of the bank’s finances, before they decide to place their final, binding bids. Due diligence will last three weeks, with each finalist taking its turn to examine the books for a week. The Army Trust Fund and the government want to transfer General Bank’s management before the end of the year. FBB reacts First Business Bank (FBB), one of the bidders excluded from the final round, reacted strongly to its exclusion with a statement challenging the assessment of the bidders, hinting darkly at «interests» of those overseeing the procedure. Sources within the Army Trust Fund said that what contributed to FBB’s exclusion was the fact that state-controlled Agricultural Bank holds a 44 percent stake in FBB, saying that ceding management control, and a substantial stake, in FBB would not constitute a privatization. However, FBB had written a letter to Rothschild saying that Agricultural Bank was not to take part in a planned 60-million-euro capital increase. This will dilute Agricultural’s stake to below 15 percent. The capital increase is to be covered by the partnership of shipowners which currently own 51 percent of FBB. FBB also challenged the assertion that its capital is inadequate, saying that it had planned to invest its equity capital of 90 million euros in General Bank. It added that its small network of only seven branches meant that there would be virtually no branch closures or layoffs if it acquired General Bank. It is uncertain whether Societe Generale, which had taken part in a previous, unsuccessful effort to privatize General Bank, has accepted to pay in cash if it wins the bidding.