February 5, 2015

Veteran journalists: No convincing reason for takeover of Bank Asya offered

Prominent economic columnists argued that the takeover of major lender Bank Asya by the state's banking watchdog lacks legal grounds, saying the justification provided for the move is weak and unconvincing.

The Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) late on Tuesday took over 63 percent of Bank Asya's privileged shares, citing violations of banking regulations on transparency in the organizational and partnership structure and appointing a new board of directors.

The intervention in Bank Asya comes on the heels of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's bid to sink Turkey's largest Islamic lender, which has been subject to intense pressure from Erdoğan for more than a year. Erdoğan has made defamatory remarks about the bank despite the fact that this constitutes a crime under the Turkish banking law.

On several occasions Erdoğan encouraged private and state-owned firms and institutions to withdraw cash from the bank by alleging that the bank failed to manage its funds or even had gone bankrupt.

Uğur Gürses, a columnist for the Hürriyet daily and a former central bank employee, said the TMSF has so far failed to provide sufficient justification for taking control of Bank Asya.

He underscored the fact that Article 18 of the banking law, on which the TMSF based its decision, does not provide sufficient grounds for the banking watchdog to dismiss the managing board of the bank and appoint new board members.

Stressing that there was not a single mention of a lack of capital or liquidity problems in the TMSF's decision, Gürses said “flimsy excuses” were used to gain control of the lender.

Gürses maintained that the intent behind the intervention in Bank Asya is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“This is a move to create suspicion and shake the confidence of groups that have accounts in the bank or have commercial ties with it,” said Gürses.

Süleyman Yaşar, an economist and columnist for the Taraf daily, concurred with Gürses, saying that the grounds for the takeover were superficial and that Article 18 is insufficient justification for the takeover of a bank.

Noting that the TMSF claimed it was not informed about the financial situations of the privileged shareholders of the bank, Yaşar said the TMSF can easily access the shareholders' credit histories by searching the state's electronic database as all the shareholders are Turkish citizens.

“The TMSF cannot say it was not sent shareholder information in time because the information regarding the shareholders' places of residences, diplomas, criminal records and assets are within easy reach of the state,” Yaşar said.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz of the Bugün daily said the takeover of the bank under the pretext of protecting the interests of bank customers does not sound like a convincing argument to the public. He said the move is rather a vulgar display of power aimed at intimidating a broad segment of society that is critical of the government.

He maintained that if the arbitrary takeover of Bank Asya were brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Turkey would receive heavy fines. He added that economic stability will suffer heavy damage.

Turkey had previously been forced to pay a fine to the Süzer Group for bankrupting Kentbank. Following the domestic banking crisis of 2001, Kentbank was seized by the government and handed over to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK). However, the owner of the bank appealed the decision to the ECtHR, demanding the return of its operating rights and $4.13 billion in compensation.

Yalçın Doğan of the Hürriyet daily said the authoritarian policies of the government reached a new peak with the intervention in Bank Asya on Feb. 3.

“The coup against Bank Asya is the most dangerous move in recent times. This is about the intimidation of institutions and individuals who are seen [by the government] as dissenters. Recall [the government's] previous targeting of Bank Asya; this [takeover of the bank] has nothing to do with the technical shortcomings of the bank,” said Doğan.

Mahmut Akpınar of the Millet daily said Bank Asya will not sink and continue to be called an “unsinkable bank,” as citizens -- instead of withdrawing their money -- continue to deposit what they have in the bank.

Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor and a columnist for Bugün, argued that the TMSF committed a crime by intervening in a bank without justification. He stressed that the reason for the occurrence of such a grave injustice is the absence of an independent judiciary that can judge the government's actions.

Economy drifts into chaos due to state meddling

Erdal Sağlam, an economic columnist for the Hürriyet daily, said the arbitrary takeover of major lender Bank Asya by the state's banking watchdog will shatter foreign investors' confidence in the Turkish financial and banking sectors, dealing a bitter blow to the Turkish economy.

He complained that businessmen have lost their confidence in state institutions, which have recently begun to act politically despite the fact that they were set up as independent bodies to maintain transparency and stability in the economy.

“We can say that the trust in [state] institutions and the judicial organs that are related [to economic matters] has been lost. … What is done in energy markets is well-known; no one can say that politics does not determine the capital markets or the management of the stock exchange. The fines imposed on banks by the state's Competition Board [RK] are known by everyone,” said Sağlam.

He went on to say that the government's interventionist approach will have severe consequences for the economy.

“The savings ratio in Turkey is very low and there is a dire need for foreign investment to address unemployment and achieve growth. But if the foreign investors do not have confidence in [state institutions], they will prefer not to come,” Sağlam said.

Yaşar wrote in his column, titled “Why the capital exodus from Turkey accelerated?” and published on Thursday, that the state's repressive attitude towards the private sector and arbitrary actions have scared away investors.

“In the first 10 months of 2014, the investments made by Turkish companies abroad stood at $6.328 billion. … Such an exodus of capital is unprecedented in Turkish history,” said Yaşar.

İbrahim Öztürk of Millet, commenting on the takeover of Bank Asya on unjustifiable grounds, also warned that foreigners would not choose a state where arbitrariness instead of the rule of law prevails as a destination for investment.

Published on Cihan, 05 February 2015, Thursday