Asian banks: Now comes the real crisis
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Asian banks: Now comes the real crisis

Forget forced devaluations, plummeting stock markets and widening bond yields, south-east Asia's greatest headache is its weak banking sector. While central bankers looked the other way, the region's banks lent heavily to finance stock-market speculation, overexposed themselves to property and made dubious loans to their own shareholders. As Maggie Ford reports, it is time for the reckoning.

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When Indonesia unveiled the measures to be imposed as part of a $23 billion economic stabilization programme backed by the IMF last month, a key condition was a clean-up in the banking sector. Making a start, finance minister Marie Muhammed and central bank governor Soedradjat Djiwandono announced the closure of 16 small and insolvent banks out of Indonesia's grand total of more than 230.

Out from the woodwork immediately crawled some of the most colourful characters ever to don a pinstriped suit. Shareholders of the liquidated banks included the sultan of Yogjakarta, scion of the former Indonesian royal family, and two children and a half brother of Suharto, the country's long-serving president. Two of the banks to be shut are owned by Hendra Raharjo, brother of the fugitive industrialist Eddy Tansil who escaped from jail after his conviction in 1995 for defrauding a state bank of $430 million.

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