It was roughly four years ago when details surrounding such Goldman SPV deals as Titlos first emerged, that it became clear how for over a decade, using deliberately masking transactions such as currency swaps, Greece had managed to fool the Eurozone into believing its economy was doing far better, and its debt load was far lower than it actually was in order to comply with the Maastricht treaty’s entrance requirements.
That this happened with the implicit and explicit knowledge of such European and Goldman “luminaries” as Helmut Kohl and Mario Draghi did not help Europe’s credibility.
As for the Pandora’s Box that was opened following the disclosure of just how ugly the unvarnished truth in Europe is, following the Greek disclosure, leading to the general realization that the European experiment has failed and it is now only a matter of time before its final unwind, any comment here is unnecessary – ths has been widely discussed here and elsewhere over the past several years.
Now it is Italy’s turn.
Overnight, the FT reported that “Italy risks potential losses of billions of euros on derivatives contracts it restructured at the height of the eurozone crisis, according to a confidential report by the Rome Treasury that sheds more light on the financial tactics that enabled the debt-laden country to enter the euro in 1999. A 29-page report by the Treasury, obtained by the Financial Times, details Italy’s debt transactions and exposure in the first half of 2012, including the restructuring of eight derivatives contracts with foreign banks with a total notional value of €31.7bn.”
What was the point of these derivative contracts? The same as in Greece: to transform reality and make it mora palatable: “… before and just after Italy entered the euro, Rome was flattering its accounts by taking upfront payments from banks in order to meet the deficit targets set by the EU for joining the first wave of 11 countries that adopted the euro in 1999. Italy had a budget deficit of 7.7 per cent in 1995. By 1998, the crucial year for approval of its euro membership, this had been reduced to 2.7 per cent, by far the largest drop among the Euro 11. In the same period tax receipts increased marginally and government spending as a proportion of GDP fell only slightly.“
The chronology of events is presented below:
And while Mario Draghi managed to evade serious inquiry following his role as head of the Bank of Italy at a time when Monte Paschi was engaging in various swap transactions as reported previously, just as he managed to evade scrutiny in his role as a Goldman banker before that, when he was instrumental to aiding and abetting Greece in its economic embellishment efforts (even as Goldman was being paid generously for its “advice”) when in June of 2012 the ECB outright refused to respond to Bloomberg’s FOIA request on the central bank’s Greek-ECB-Goldman currency swaps, Mario the untouchable, may finally be called to task: after all he was once again instrumental in covering up yet another financial crime this time as director-general of the Italian Treasury!
Only a handful of Italian officials, past and present, are aware of the full picture, according to bankers and government sources. The senior government official who spoke to the Financial Times and the experts consulted said the restructured contracts in the 2012 Treasury report included derivatives taken out when Italy was trying to meet tough financial criteria for the 1999 entry into the euro.
Mario Draghi, now head of the European Central Bank, was director-general of the Italian Treasury at the time, working with Vincenzo La Via, then head of the debt department, and Ms Cannata, then a senior official involved with debt and deficit accounting. Mr La Via left the Treasury in 2000 and returned as its director-general in May 2012 – with the backing of Mr Draghi, according to Italian officials.
An ECB spokesman declined to comment on the bank’s knowledge of Italy’s potential exposure to derivatives losses or on Mr Draghi’s role in approving derivatives contracts in the 1990s before he joined Goldman Sachs International in 2002.
Of course the ECB will decline to comment: doing so would open up the can of worms of just how much alleged criminal activity Europe’s central bank may have engaged in for its own benefit, for the benefit of members such as the Bank of Italy, and of course, for the benefit of such “financial advisors” as Goldman Sachs. After all let’s not forget that we are now into the fourth year of the Fed’s investigation into Goldman’s role as facilitator of Greek currency swaps. That’s right: we remember, and we are still holding our breath.
- Mario Draghi, complicit and aware of the Greek currency swap arrangement, as a member of Goldman Sachs in the mid-2000s.
- Mario Draghi, complicit and aware of various Monte Paschi derivative deals, as head of the Bank of Italy.
- Mario Draghi, complicit and aware in rejecting Bloomberg’s FOIA requests that would have blown all of these scandals wide into the open, as current head of the ECB.
- And now, Mario Draghi, complicit and aware of at least one (and likely many) Italian window dressing derivative deals with one or more US investment banks, as Director-General of the Italian Treasury.
Just where does Mario Draghi’s rabbit hole of endless scandals finally end?
Still, the ability to push yet another Draghi-centered scandal under the rug may be impossible especially if Italy suffers billions in losses on this latest derivative fiasco:
While the report leaves out crucial details and appears intended not to give a full picture of Italy’s potential losses, experts who examined it told the Financial Times the restructuring allowed the cash-strapped Treasury to stagger payments owed to foreign banks over a longer period but, in some cases, at more disadvantageous terms for Italy.
In April police of the Guardia di Finanza visited the offices of Maria Cannata, head of the Treasury’s debt management agency, asking for more information on the report drafted by the agency, including details of the original derivatives contracts, the senior official said.
The leaking of the 2012 Treasury report, which was also obtained by La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, is likely to fuel debate over Italy’s exposure to derivatives. It comes at a time when markets have begun to exhibit new nervousness with the cost of borrowing rising sharply recently for eurozone peripheral countries like Italy.
Needless to say the last thing the scandal-prone country, whose most popular politician was just sentenced to 7 years in jail for underage sex, is yet another disclosure that its financial system has been lying, and is about to suffer billions in cash outflow for legacy liabilities. Liabilities, whose total damage may be in the tens of billions:
The report does not specify the potential losses Italy faces on the restructured contracts. But three independent experts consulted by the FT calculated the losses based on market prices on June 20 and concluded the Treasury was facing a potential loss at that moment of about €8bn, a surprisingly high figure based on a notional value of €31.7bn.
Italy does not disclose its total potential exposure to its derivatives trades. The experts contacted by the FT, who declined to be named, noted that the report revealed just a six-month snapshot on a limited number of restructured contracts.
And with derivatives being zero sum (unless there is a counterparty failure in the collateral chain in which case everyone loses), Italy’s loss was someone else’s gain. In this case Morgan Stanley (among others):
Early last year Italy was prompted to reveal by regulatory filings made by Morgan Stanley that it had paid the US investment bank €2.57bn after the bank exercised a break clause on derivatives contracts involving interest rate swaps and swap options agreed with Italy in 1994.
An official report presented to parliament in March 2012 found that Morgan Stanley was the only counterparty to have such a break clause with Italy and disclosed, for the first time, that the Treasury held derivatives contracts to hedge some €160bn of debt, almost 10 per cent of state bonds in circulation.
The Bloomberg News agency calculated at the time, based on regulatory filings, that Italy had lost more than $31bn on its derivatives at then market values.
In the past, the orders to push back investigations into such illegal, shady dealings most certainly came not only from the very top Italian power echelons, but from the ECB, and ultimately, banks like Goldman. The question is: will Italy’s state auditors, the Corte dei Conti, finally stand up for the people and expose the corruption, and the people behind the billions in soon to be revealed losses:
Releasing its own report in February on the state accounts for 2012, Salvatore Nottola, prosecutor-general of the Corte dei Conti, noted that “the damage done to the state’s income constituted by the negative outcomes of derivatives contracts is particularly critical and delicate”.
The Corte dei Conti declined to comment on the report and the finance police did not respond to inquiries. A finance ministry spokesman confirmed the existence of the report but declined to comment on its contents and possible losses, citing commercial confidentiality. He would not comment on requests made by the police to Ms Cannata.
Gustavo Piga, an Italian economics professor, caused a storm in 2001 when he obtained one such derivatives contract taken out in 1996 and accused EU countries of “window-dressing” their accounts. Mr Piga did not identify the country nor the bank involved but they have since been named in the media as Italy and JPMorgan.
“Derivatives are a very useful instrument,” Mr Piga wrote. “They just become bad if they’re used to window-dress accounts,” he said, accusing the unnamed country of disregarding standard derivatives contracts in order to delay until a later date its debt interest payments.
And speaking of openness, transparency, and the lack thereof, none of the above is news. At least not to the one person most instrumental for ushering in the failed European monetary experiment: Germany’s Helmut Kohl.
Last year Der Spiegel, a German magazine, obtained official documents which it said demonstrated that in 1998 Helmut Kohl, then chancellor, decided for political reasons to ignore warnings from his experts that Italy was believed to be “dressing” up its accounts and would not meet the Maastricht treaty criteria for entry, including a budget deficit less than 3 per cent. Italian officials, including former finance minister Giulio Tremonti, have said the EU was aware and approved of Italy’s use of derivatives in the build-up to euro entry.
Not surprising considering in his own words, “he acted like a dictator to bring in the euro.” And considering that Europeans have gladly ceded all their rights and powers to live in a dictatorial pipe-dream for the past decade, and which has since exploded into the worst depressionary nightmare the “developed” world has ever known, perhaps all those 20%, 30% and more unemployed should look in the mirror when deciding whom to blame for their plight.
But don’t worry – the Goldmans, the Mario Draghis, the Cannatas, and the Berlusconis of the world are doing perfectly well, thank you, even as Greek and Spanish youth unemployment is now in the 60% range. Which is roughly just as one would expect of every neo-feudal, dictatorial regime.