The Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC) has suspended the process for the sale of the Cypriot branch of the Federal Bank of Middle East (FBME) pending a court decision, a CBC official said on Saturday.
FBME was taken over on July 18 by the Central Bank of Cyprus which later announced that the bank was up for sale after the United States Financial Crimes Enforcement Network accused it of being "a financial institution of primary money laundering."
FBME, owned by two Lebanese brothers who also own the Federal Bank of Lebanon, dismissed the accusation, saying a detailed assessment by an international accountancy firm over the past two years found it complied with anti-money laundering regulations of both Cyprus and the European Union.
After an appeal by the bank's owners, the High Court of Cyprus issued an order on Friday putting on halt the sale process.
CBC said in a statement that despite the suspension of the process "the Resolution Authority continues to exercise its powers vested in it by the Resolution of Credit and other Institutions Law" over the Cypriot branch of FBME.
CBC has appointed an administrator of FBME who has suspended its everyday operations.
FBME was originally set up as a subsidiary of the Federal Bank of Lebanon in 1982 but it subsequently moved its headquarters to Tanzania. However, U.S. authorities claimed that it carried most of its activities through its Cypriot branch and "facilitated international terrorists' financiers and international narcotics trafficking."
Reports carried by Cypriot media on Saturday said that Bank of Cyprus, which is in the process of raising its capital by private placement of new shares worth 1 billion euros (1.34 billion U.S. dollars), was interested in buying FBME's services in Cyprus. BOC President Christis Hasapis refused to comment on the issue.
Latest data showed that FBME's loans and deposits amount to 1.7 billion euros.
In case the High Court allows the sale of the FBME Cypriot branch, the Central Bank can either go ahead with finding an appropriate buyer and failing that to appoint a liquidator.