Greece’s top commercial banker yesterday defended the local banking system against what he called «naive» and «misleading» criticism over its rates policy. Hellenic Bank Association (HBA) chairman and National Bank of Greece governor Theodoros Karatzas, speaking at HBA’s annual general meeting, was answering criticism leveled at Greek banks for lowering their savings rates to levels below the inflation rate and for the large gap between savings and loan rates. Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who was present at the HBA meeting, was one of the banks’ critics and has further antagonized banks by offering the so-called «popular bonds,» 12-month securities with a rate just above inflation and free of tax. Their issue, however, failed to attract the expected number of investors. Karatzas told the assembly that such criticism does nothing but «mislead the public and reflect outdated practices… from the time when banks were thought to be akin to public utilities.» He argued Greece’s banking sector is competitive and able to withstand the present crisis in global markets.