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European Court dismisses compensation claim in Cyprus 2013 deposit-grab

ATHENS (Reuters) - An EU court has rejected a petition for compensation by bank depositors whose funds were confiscated in Cyprus’s financial crisis in 2013, in a process which would become a European template for banks in trouble.

Depositors in two Cypriot banks lost billions when savings were confiscated to protect the island’s banking system in 2013, in a process known as a bail-in. The move was a condition sought by international creditors for a 10 billion euro ($11.62 billion) bailout to the east Mediterranean island.

“The Court concludes that the individuals and companies which initiated the actions have not succeeded in demonstrating an infringement of the right to property, of the principle of protection of legitimate expectations, or of the principle of equal treatment,” the General Court of the European Union, a division which addresses complaints against EU institutions, said in a news release.

The case was mounted by 51 people who lost funds and were clients of Laiki Bank, now defunct, and Bank of Cyprus.

While a long line of EU banks were rescued at huge public expense during the 2008-09 financial crisis, the EU excluded Cypriot banks, damaged by their exposure to Greek government bonds, from any aid.

Instead, their clients paid. At Laiki Bank alone, about 3.4 billion euros in deposits were wiped out. This left savers with at most 100,000 euros, the ceiling on deposit insurance under EU regulations.

Bank of Cyprus clients saw a percentage of their deposits exceeding 100,000 euros converted to equity, exchanging the seized funds for shares in the lender. Under a completely revamped management, the bank has since staged a turnaround, attracted new investors and is listed in London.

Both banks had in the past gambled on high-yielding Greek government bonds which blasted holes in their balance sheets when Greece’s debt was restructured under another EU/IMF rescue in 2012.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Peter Graff