Still trying to wrap my head around the Cyprus situation; what makes it so interesting (as in “may you live in interesting times”) is the role of the island as a tax, regulation, and law enforcement haven.
It’s not just about the Russian connection, but that connection is really huge. Here’s another metric: Cyprus is, according to official figures, the largest single foreign direct investor in Russia — this from an economy roughly the same size as metropolitan Scranton PA. What’s that about? The FT explained it a while back:
This link occurs through CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] commodity-based shell companies that deposit transactional balances of their CIS-based legal subsidiaries engaged in oil, mineral, and metals exports, often involving transfer pricing and other tax minimization strategies. The Central Bank of Russia classifies Cyprus as the largest single source of FDI in the Russian Federation, with a total of $41.7 billion in cumulative inbound FDI into Russia’s non-financial sector between 2007 and 2010 (over 2.7x German levels)… Cyprus is also counted among the top FDI investing nations in several Central Asian countries (likely Russian capital reinvested via Cyprus, a process known informally as “round-tripping”).
And a key aspect of the current mess is that the Cypriot government isn’t willing to give up this business. That’s why solutions like converting large deposits into CDs haven’t been on the table; once round-tripping Russians know that they can find their money trapped for long periods, they’ll go find another treasure island.
My guess is that in the end Cyprus can’t reclaim the round-tripping business — and once it decides that it can’t, a resolution will become much easier. But they’re not there yet.