Hungarian central bank buys interbank clearing firm

BUDAPEST, April 15 Tue Apr 15, 2014 11:01am EDT

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BUDAPEST, April 15 (Reuters) - Hungary's central bank will acquire a controlling stake in interbank clearing company Giro Zrt, further tightening its grip on the financial system.

The bank, led by an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said in a statement on Tuesday that it would pay 9.5 billion forints ($43 million) for a 78.1 percent stake in Giro, which has a monopoly to clear retail and corporate transfers.

Giro is owned by 22 banks including the central bank, the National Bank of Hungary. Giro's biggest shareholders have agreed to sell their stake to the central bank, boosting its stake to 86.2 percent. It has offered to buy the rest of the Giro shares at the same price.

The central bank has boosted its influence over the banking system since former economy minister Gyorgy Matolcsy was appointed as its governor a year ago.

In October last year the banking watchdog PSZAF was merged into the central bank.

As a minister, Matolcsy designed the government's unorthodox economic policies, which leant heavily on raising bank taxes.

After Orban's Fidesz party won a second term with two-thirds parliament majority in elections this month, the prime minister said the victory authorised him to continue the past four years' policies and to keep the windfall taxes on banks.

The government also wants more Hungarian ownership of the banking system, which is currently mostly foreign-owned. ($1 = 222.1056 Hungarian Forints) (Reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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