Slovenia, Serbia bank ruling could calm regional waters

15/11/2012

Depositors in the region have been waiting for more than 20 years for the return of their funds.

By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 15/11/12

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The funds should be returned in full, the court said. [AFP]

About 130,000 Croatians should be able to recoup 160 million euros in deposits from Slovenia's Ljubljanska Banka and Serbia's Invest Banka after a verdict by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) becomes finalised, Zdenko Rogic, a mediator in the ongoing discussions between the bank and Croatia, said this week.

Three Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) depositors received a favorable court decision in their battle on behalf of depositors, when the ECHR ruled on November 6th that both Slovenia and Serbia return all foreign currency savings owed to their depositors.

The banks must return the money under the same conditions as the savings were returned to depositors who are Slovenian or Serbian nationals, the court said. The 20-year-old saga could come to an end, stabilising Croatia's country's rocky relationship with Slovenia.

"Relations between Slovenia and Croatia are so sensitive that nobody wanted to listen to us when they heard who we were complaining about," Darja Dvekar, a resident of Bjelovar whose parents are depositors from Croatia, told SETimes.

"I think that this ruling is a good signal and that the government should use it finally to resolve this problem," Jadranka Kosor, former Croatian prime minister, told local media.

The Strasbourg court received the case in 2004, and claims against the bank date back to late 1990, when banks across Yugoslavia put accounts on ice as the country disintegrated. Ljubljanska Banka not only froze funds belonging to Slovenian citizens, but also to depositors from other republics.

"We were depositors in banks and not clients with savings accounts according to countries or place of residence. Slovenia and Serbia manipulated our money and we stopped demanding our money back from the banks. Countries are now responsible to return the money. Serbia and Slovenia cannot escape the responsibility," Amila Omersoftic, president of the Association for Protection of Foreign Currency Depositors of BiH, told SETimes.

Both countries can appeal the court decision in the next three months. The payment deadline is six months after the court ruling enters into effect.

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"Slovenia owes to depositors in BiH 634,000 euros, and in Serbia 400 million euros," Svetozar Nisic, president of the commission at the Association of Citizens for the Return of Old Foreign Currency Depositors in BiH, told SETimes.

Slovenia has announced it will appeal the decision, while Serbia has refused to comment.

"I'm still studying the ruling, but it's one-sided and we'll certainly appeal it," Rudi Gabrovec, the representative for the Slovenian government's succession issues, said.

Slovenia argues that neither Slovenia nor Ljubljanska Banka took any foreign currency deposits from the former BiH Ljubljanska Banka branch, and therefore owe nothing to depositors.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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