August 11, 2014

Government's Bank Asya operation brought to parliamentary agenda

Reactions are snowballing against the government's operation to force the closure of the participation bank Bank Asya as part of its fight against the Hizmet movement, with the matter brought to Parliament's agenda in the form of a parliamentary question from the Republican People's Party (CHP).

CHP İstanbul deputy Umut Oran directed a question at Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan to ask for the rationale behind the government's attempts to sink a private bank and risking a domino effect which could damage the entire economy. The rest of the world is trying to support troubled banks and even bail them out as the US did in 2008, Oran said, pointing to the very different intentions of the Turkish government, which is trying to force the closure of a private lender.

“Surely the arbitrary pressure [on the bank] will shake the confidence of foreign investors and deter them from investing in Turkey,” he said. At a time when Turkey is already counted among the “fragile five” economies, such a government-sponsored attitude against a private enterprise contributes nothing but a deepening of the vulnerabilities of the economy, said Oran.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a group of journalists on his official plane while returning from a domestic trip two weeks ago that Bank Asya's financial situation was worsening and that the bank was struggling to increase its liquidity by selling assets. His remarks were criticized strongly as a premeditated act intended to damage the bank, which is a crime punishable with a jail sentence of between one and three years. After the prime minister's words, the bank's shares in Borsa İstanbul (BİST) plummeted.

Last week, Babacan was in the news as he disclosed to the press that state-run Ziraat Bankası was in negotiations to acquire Bank Asya and that the talks may be completed shortly, sending the shares of the bank bouncing back to previous levels. Babacan's statement also drew reactions from the markets since such insider information about BİST-listed companies should only be shared through the Public Disclosure Forum (KAP) and only by the parties involved. But the most critical response to the deputy prime minister came from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), with Erdoğan's chief economic adviser accusing Babacan of being a mouthpiece for the “parallel structure,” the term coined by the government to refer to the Hizmet movement, implying that the movement has created a state within the state and is now using its clandestine power to topple the government by exploiting the corrupt practices of some government members. A day after Babacan's statement, the Finance Ministry and the Social Security Institution (SGK) terminated their contracts with Bank Asya without prior notice and even without giving a reason for the termination.

Oran asked Babacan if it is in line with the norms of a free market economy to influence the share prices of Bank Asya and who would compensate the losses such volatile prices would incur for BİST investors. Oran also wanted to know whether Babacan, as the minister responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the markets, had taken the necessary steps like mobilizing the Banking Regulation and Supervision Authority (BDDK) and the Capital Markets Board (SPK) to take action against the government's illegal operation to sink Bank Asya.

Seasoned journalist Hasan Cemal, who is now working for an online news site after being fired from the Milliyet daily due to the government putting pressure on the daily's owner to fire him, wrote in his column on Aug. 9 that sinking a bank would crown all the misdeeds of the government. “Up until today, banks used to be rescued by the state. Now it has achieved a first and has made history by achieving the opposite. There is nothing else to say other than 'May God help you,' after all these outrageous moves by the government against Bank Asya,” wrote Cemal. “But take care to remember that a political authority that can sink a bank by using state powers might also sink the economy,” he added.

Columnist Yavuz Semerci from the Haber Türk daily also touched on the subject, commenting that the government is acting against Bank Asya based on political motives and out of an animosity toward the Hizmet movement. The aim of the government seems to be to create panic among the depositors of the bank and to frighten them so that they will rush to withdraw their money, throwing the bank into a liquidity crisis which would eventually justify the nationalization of the bank, Semerci noted.

Fatih Altaylı from Haber Türk drew attention to the illegality of such attempts and questioned why no legal action has been taken against those responsible for damaging a financial institution's reputation and credibility. “What I wonder is whether Articles 74 and 158 of Law 5411 [the Banking Law articles which stipulate imprisonment for libelous acts against banks] have been repealed,” Altaylı said.

‘Erdoğan committed a crime, prosecutors must act'

CHP Deputy Chairman Faik Öztrak said recent remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the economy ministers about Bank Asya and the credit rating agency Moody's constitute a clear crime and that public prosecutors as well as the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) and the Capital Markets Board (SPK) should immediately launch a case against the culprits. During a press conference in Parliament on Saturday, he accused Erdoğan and the others of manipulation. He also called on the affected companies and their investors to go to court and sue Erdoğan and every other person who had made remarks in order to denigrate the bank's public prestige. Moody's announced on Friday night that there was no need to update Turkey's sovereign credit rating at the moment, causing economists to speculate whether Moody's had been deterred from making a negative decision about Turkey after threatening remarks from certain ministers.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 10 August 2014, Sunday

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