ECONOMY

Astra Banka in Cyprus, linked to Milosevic, loses operating license

NICOSIA (AFP) – The Cypriot branch of Astra Banka, once closely linked to Yugoslavia’s disgraced Milosevic regime, has had its operating license revoked, a senior Cyprus central bank official said yesterday. «We revoked the license after the National Bank of Yugoslavia informed us they were winding up operations at Astra Banka in Belgrade,» Spyros Stavrinakis told AFP. He said the authorities would now ask a court to appoint an administrator, who will work closely with the National Bank of Yugoslavia. Astra Banka, formerly named Karic Banka, was put under the administration of the National Bank earlier this month due to insolvency. «The Karic family bank will go into liquidation to pay off liability, but most of its loans were extended to the Karic group. It was a small operation here,» said Stavrinakis. «The bank had links with Milosevic, and Karic switched sides after the regime collapsed,» he added. With Astra Banka closing in Nicosia, the island has seen the last of three major Yugoslav banks that thrived on Cyprus during Slobodan Milosevic’s 12-year rule in Belgrade. Beogradska was the largest banking unit, folding due to insolvency after former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power last year. It was allegedly a significant conduit for dirty cash and a major reason why Cyprus earned an unwanted reputation of being a money-laundering center. UN war crimes investigators and the new government in Belgrade believes Cyprus offshore accounts were key to Milosevic money-laundering activity, with an estimated $4 billion vanishing from Yugoslav state coffers.