In December last year, I had some delicious seafood in one of a chain of restaurants in Cyprus. The chain was actually South African owned, and the style of cooking was actually Cape Malay. The restaurant didn’t mention either of these things in its advertising, signage, or on its menue. There was a vague suggestion that it was Cajun. (Being very vague about where they come from is a skill South African businesses picked up in the apartheid era, and they haven’t lost it). When I got my bill and paid by credit card, I was intrigued to see that the merchant bank was not a local Cypriot bank, but was a South African bank. I was slightly mystified by this at the time (other than that it is no secret that, well, interesting capital flows go through Cyprus), and wondered if the restaurant and the bank shared ownership for reasons similar to the reasons why the mafia also finds it convenient to own lots of restaurants.
Possibly, though, the situation is simpler. The Cypriot banks were and are bust. A South African company doing business in Cyprus does not trust the Cypriot financial system and is avoiding it as much as possible by bringing its own bank. Perhaps my payment for seafood was going directly to somewhere else in the euro area rather than to a Cypriot registered institution. Possibly it was going further afield. Some of the species of seafood on the menu were not native to the Mediterranean, so there were certainly foreign payments to be made, and that part would at least be legitimate to some extent. (To be fair, seafood may be one of the world’s most globalised industries, and this is true of almost any seafood restaurant anywhere). Someone, though, may have suspected what was coming.