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Parex splits up to safeguard its future

Latvia’s Parex banka is the one of the biggest victims of the financial crisis in central and eastern Europe. As its chairman tells Sudip Roy, it is pinning its recovery hopes on a good bank/bad bank strategy.

WHEN HISTORIANS DRAW up a list of the big casualties of this crisis it is unlikely that Parex banka will feature prominently.

The Latvian bank’s troubles were nowhere near as central to the health of the global financial system as Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, Bear Stearns’ collapse or AIG’s bailout. In central and eastern Europe, however, Parex is notorious as the region’s biggest victim to date after it had to be rescued by the government in November 2008 following a substantial withdrawal of deposits.

At the time it seemed inevitable that other banks in emerging Europe would suffer a similar fate. That they haven’t has been as unexpected as it is welcome, and reflects well on the international banks that were able to provide capital and liquidity support to their local subsidiaries in their hour of need.

As an independent bank Parex had no such lifeline. When the wholesale capital markets shut following Lehman Brothers’ fall, Parex was caught short. Depositors panicked, leading to a run on the bank. It may well have defaulted on €775 million of debt due in 2009 had the government not intervened.

Fall from grace

It was a quick fall from grace for Parex.

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