The Slovenia Times

Economist Sheds Light on Developments at NLB Bank


In Slovenia, the subject under forensic investigation needs to give its consent to be investigated, which Masten said was "absurd".

The economist wonders why it was not until now that the information that Slovenian banks have at least EUR 6bn worth of bad loans comes as a shock. "These bad loans date from 2006, 2007 and the first three quarters of 2008."

He also wonders why Slovenia failed to admit the scope of bad loans as soon as the crisis kicked in and started to tackle the problem.

The economist says that he was among those who advocated the creation of a bad bank as early as 2009. He believes that it did not happen "because the admission of bad loans would mean acknowledgement of mistakes brought about by the concept of national interest".

Nevertheless, when asked about the planned process to mop up the balance sheets of Slovenian banks, Masten says it is better late than never, while he also argues that the taxpayer's interest must be pursued.

This means it is necessary to distribute the burden in the transfer of bad loans. "It cannot be the state alone to supply the financing again," he says, adding that NLB still has private owners.

Masten understands his dismissal from the supervisory board as a no-confidence vote, while he does not understand why only Slovenian members of the supervisory board were sacked in June.

He says that the dismissed supervisors have nothing to fear if their work is scrutinised although they were subject to pressure from networks operating from behind the scenes.

As an instance he cited the case of the Stožice sports complex, where he said the NLB management negotiated better terms for the bank in a project that had been financially amiss from the start and had already been started by the previous management.

"Stožice was a picnic compared to developments around Mercator," he said about the failed attempt by the bank and other Mercator shareholders to sell the majority stake in the retailer to Croatia's Agrokor.

"That was a brutal and well media-orchestrated interference by politics and interest groups in the management of the bank that prevented the implementation of the government-endorsed NLB strategy."

Masten does not expect change in the management of the bank until it gets a proper owner. "I cannot imagine any serious banker would be prepared to take over at the helm of the international banking group for a year."

He expects that the Belgian KBC bank would pull out as an owner from NLB in line with its commitments to the European Commission as well as because he thinks Slovenia treats KBC as "an enemy".

Masten was critical of the politicians' response to due diligence conducted at NLB, arguing that their reactions are harmful for the bank as well as the country.

"Government members, for whom international investors know to have access to information, talk about the pointlessness of due diligence for the sake of their own promotion. The message they are sending out abroad in this way is that the country's biggest financial institution remains in big troubles and that due diligence was useless."

"The tragedy is that these people are not even aware of the consequences of their actions. The high yield on the country's debt is just a logical consequence," the economist says.


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