Carlyle Group LP co-Chief Executive David Rubenstein said on Wednesday that inflicting losses on deposits at Cypriot banks has had a chilling effect across the world and could drive investors to pull their money from banks in other countries.
A European Union bailout deal to save Cyprus from bankruptcy came with a raid on deposits over 100,000 euros in Cypriot bank accounts, an unprecedented move that has sent jitters across the single currency euro zone and beyond.
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"Cyprus is 0.2 percent of the EU's gross domestic product so it's insignificant. The real thing that has resonated around the world is that for the first time, people realized that governments could come in and wipe out their bank accounts," Rubenstein told Reuters Editor in Chief Stephen Adler at the Thomson Reuters Buyouts East conference in Boston.
"Even in the United States people are beginning to wonder, could the government do that to me someday. It's unlikely that would ever happen here but the idea that a government could just push a button and all of a sudden 10 percent of your bank account is wiped out, is something that has scared people," Rubenstein added.
While a much feared run on Cypriot banks did not materialize when they re-opened last week, the country has imposed capital controls to stem a flight of euros from the island.
A lawyer by training, Rubenstein served as a domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter between 1977 and 1981 and in 1987 founded Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle together with William Conway and Daniel D'Aniello.
"If you are in a bank that is not all that strong, in a country that is not all that strong, you might not keep your money there any longer. That's the real impact of Cyprus; it's scaring to death a lot of depositors all around the world," Rubenstein said.
Thanks to support from the European Central Bank, however, the existence of the euro is currently not at threat, Rubenstein added.
Rubenstein, whose net worth is pegged by Forbes at $3 billion, has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable and educational causes and is a signatory to the 2010 Bill Gates-Warren Buffett "Giving Pledge," having committed to dedicate most of his wealth to philanthropy.
Rooted in private equity, Carlyle has in recent years expanded in other alternative asset classes including corporate credit, real estate and even commodities. It now boasts more than $170 billion of assets under management.
(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in Boston; Edirinf by Steve Orlofsky)