November 23, 2018 / 5:47 PM / 6 months ago

Investors show interest in Moldovan lender -outgoing cbank chief

CHISINAU, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Four foreign investors are interested in buying a majority stake in Moldova’s second-largest lender, Moldindconbank, as part of a foreign donor-backed clean-up of the financial system, the outgoing central bank chief Sergiu Cioclea told Reuters.

Cioclea, who earlier announced he was stepping down, said Moldova had turned the corner on bringing more transparency to its banking system following a $1 billion scandal that plunged the eastern European country into political and economic turmoil.

The authorities have sold stakes to foreign investors in two of Moldova’s largest banks that had come under scrutiny for their opaque ownership structures.

A third, Moldindconbank, has been under the central bank’s control since October 2016 and the authorities hope to sell 63.89 percent of its shares. They invited bids for a three-month period that began in October.

“Several investors have shown interest in a majority stake in MICB,” Sergiu Cioclea said in an interview following his announcement that he would leave office on Nov. 30.

“I believe that the point of no return has been successfully completed, today the banking system of Moldova itself will not want to return to the old times,” he said.

Cioclea announced his departure less than three years into his seven year term but denied talk that he was being forced out by the authorities.

“This is a personal decision. Nobody put pressure on me,” he said.

Moldova plunged into economic and political crisis after the disappearance of $1 billion from three lenders, Banca de Economii, Banca Sociala and Unibank.

Known locally as the “theft of the century”, the scandal triggered street protests, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid, the leu currency plunged to record lows and inflation climbed into double digits.

Cioclea said more than 70 percent of the banking sector was now managed by transparent shareholders, compared with 25 percent before the scandal. (Editing by Matthias Williams, editing by Louise Heavens)

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