February 11, 2015

Bank Asya investors go to Turkish court in bid to regain control

Shareholders in Turkey's Bank Asya began legal action on Wednesday in an attempt to regain control of the Islamic lender after regulators dismissed the board and took over its management.

Bank Asya suffered a run on deposits last year after it became caught up in a power struggle between President Tayyip Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Islamic cleric whose sympathizers founded the lender in 1996.

Regulators dismissed the board last week, citing a lack of sufficient transparency at the bank and saying shareholders had failed to provide required documentation.

The shareholders - whose stakes were seized as part of the decision - have began legal action to suspend the takeover, arguing the reason given did not merit such a drastic measure, according to their lawyer Süleyman Taşbaş.

"A failure to provide documents by a deadline is not grounds for taking over management. It is a clear infringement of the banking law," Taşbaş told Reuters.

Taşbaş said the takeover was politically driven, but Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the time that this was not the case and that the bank had failed to meet legal criteria.

The two regulatory bodies involved in the Bank Asya decision were the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) and the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK). The TMSF declined to comment on the shareholders' challenge, while no-one was immediately available to comment at the BDDK.

Erdoğan has long accused his former ally Gülen of orchestrating a corruption probe to undermine his rule and has waged a battle to purge institutions such as the police and judiciary of his supporters.

Last year, depositors including state-owned firms and institutions withdrew funds from the lender - according to media reports about 4 billion lira ($1.6 billion), a fifth of Bank Asya's total deposits. Erdoğan publicly criticized the bank and urged action against it after the sharp fall in deposits.

Taşbaş said two separate cases had been launched against the regulatory decision, in Ankara and İstanbul, where the two regulators are based. The courts could rule as early as next week on the requests to suspend the takeover, he added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 February 2015, Wednesday