Greek central bank hit by short claims

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A former European commissioner has accused Greece’s central bank of encouraging naked short selling of Greek bonds by altering the regulations on its electronic bond trading platform last year.

Vasso Papandreou, a senior deputy in the governing Socialist party, made the charges on Wednesday in a written question to parliament.

She said an extension of the settlement period and the abolition of penalties for failed bond trades had made it easier for speculators to short Greek bonds.

“The Bank of Greece knew the country’s negative fiscal situation. Why did it facilitate the speculation?” asked Ms Papandreou, who is not related to George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister.

Her question, supported by another 10 deputies, reflects growing concern in the Socialist party over an apparent policy contradiction in the handling of Greece’s debt crisis.

“The prime minister launched a truly titanic effort, on a global scale, aimed at unmasking speculators,” she said.

Mr Papandreou claimed the surge in spreads that resulted in Greece seeking a €110bn ($135.4bn, £94.4bn) bail-out last month from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund was the result of sustained shorting of Greek bonds by unnamed speculators and hedge funds.

During a visit to the US earlier this year, he called for international sanctions against naked short selling.

The confusion in policy continued for months, although the prime minister regularly met George Provopoulos, governor of the Bank of Greece, and George Papaconstantinou, the finance minister, to discuss the handling of the country’s debt crisis.

The six-page question addressed to Mr Papaconstantinou set out details of measures taken by the central bank last year. The bank first extended the settlement period for transactions on HDAT, the bond trading platform, from Tplus3 (trading plus three days) to Tplus10.

The change was reportedly made in response to a request from the Association of Greek Banks, which represents market-makers in Greek bonds. But it gave short sellers a longer window of opportunity to push down the price of a Greek bond before delivering it on the settlement date, Ms Papandreou said. The central bank also abolished penalties for investors which did not deliver a bond on the settlement date.

“There seems to be some confusion about this among Greek deputies,” said a senior Bank of Greece official. “This is a technical back- office issue, not necessarily a trading issue.”

Last month, the Bank of Greece reversed both decisions after a Greek newspaper revealed details of much increased short selling and large numbers of unsettled transactions.

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