January 31, 2012
Think filing for bankruptcy is the only way to get debt discharge? Think again, at least in Greece.
While previously we have reported that Greek courts had written off “untenable” debts of unemployed Greeks owed to local banks, Kathimerini describes a landmark case which may have profound implications for the indebted country, in which a fully employed woman has had the bulk of her debt written off. From Kathimerini:
“In what could turn out to be a significant ruling for Greeks suffering from the economic crisis, a court in Hania, Crete, has become the first in the country to order that the majority of the debt owed to banks by someone still in full employment be wiped out.
Sunday’s Kathimerini understands that the Justice of the Peace Court in Hania based its decision on a 2010 law that allows judges to give protection to people struggling to meet their financial commitments. Until now, the legislation has only been used to give debt relief to unemployed people or those with no substantial income.” This means that virtually every indebted person in Greece, regardless of employment status will rush into court rooms, demanding equitable treatment and a similar debt write down. It also means that the Greek bank sector, already hopelessly insolvent, is about to see its assets, aka loans issued to consumers, about to be written off entirely. And since the ultimate backstopper of the entire Greek financial system is the ECB, the creeping impairments will have no choice but to impact, very soon, the mark-to-market used by both the ECB and the various national banks. Finally, how long before other courts in Europe express solidarity with their own citizens and proceeds with similar resolutions?
On the specifics of the write off:
In the Hania case, the court ruled in favor of a full-time civil servant. The divorced woman, who has three children, asked to be given protection after her banks refused to offer her new terms for combined loans of 112,000 euros. The unnamed woman explained that she did not have any assets she could sell to pay off her debt.
In its ruling, the court deemed that the woman, who has moved in with her parents, needs 350 euros a month to cover her own costs but that the rest of her earnings could be distributed equally among the three banks she owes money to. The judge deemed that this process should last for four years, meaning the woman would pay back some 30,000 euros and the remaining 82,000 would be written off.
And the implications:
Thousands of people have already appealed to the courts for protection under the 2010 law but legal experts believe the decision in Hania may lead to a new wave of appeals by Greeks who still have jobs but are unable to repay their loans.
Needless to say, this simply means that as locals realize that a domino effect in which bank assets are written down will necessitate a collapse of bank balance sheets, and the asset side of the ledge will be unable to support deposits held by local banks. Which is unfortunate as December saw the first modest signs of a rebound in Greek deposits, which rose modestly from €173 billion to €174 billion following years of consecutive declines.