February 5, 2015

Taking over the management of Bank Asya may be just the beginning

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

There is a horrifying simplicity behind the takeover of the management of Bank Asya by Turkey's state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). They asked the owners of Bank Asya to produce documents demonstrating, for example, that none of them had ever declared bankruptcy. As far as I understand, for various reasons such as being out of the country or something like that, some of them did not deliver these documents to the TMSF. With this as a pretext, they took over management of the bank overnight, saying that the management of the bank is not transparent.

I do not think Turkey can explain or justify this action before any international bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It is obvious that they just wanted to seize control of the bank and that they were looking for a way to justify this action.

The TMSF has all the details about the identity of the owners, and they could have easily collected any information about them from any state institution, including the papers they had asked for regarding bankruptcy.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the TMSF really desperately needed these documents in order to decide if Bank Asya was functioning in a proper way. Why would the TMSF have to seize control of the bank simply because these documents were not delivered?

If the real reason was to ensure sound management of the bank, and thus to maintain order in the banking system, why then has this seizure turned in to a horror show that has the potential to send the bank's depositors into a panic? They went there with police, which created the image that a serious crime had been committed by the bank. There was a crew of TV cameras. And when Bank Asya was cordoned off by the police, pro-government columnists tweeted threatening messages, saying that this was just the beginning. They were saying that this would be followed by the seizure of media affiliated with the Gülen movement.

It is no secret that the government has been trying to bankrupt Bank Asya for a long time. This is a part of their war against the Gülen movement. Like a pro-government columnist said, I believe they wanted to kill a few birds with this stone. On the one hand they want to take Bank Asya from its owners. On the other they want to hit back at Gülen-affiliated media, following the funds they received from this bank.

Therefore, it would not be surprising to witness more dramatic steps from the government in the aftermath of this attack against Bank Asya.

It is tragicomic to witness this language claiming the banking system and Bank Asya were being protected while such a devastating operation was being carried out. Giving such explanations for attacks on freedoms and rights is an old state habit in Turkey.

In 2000, an operation called "Hayata Dönüş" (Return to Life) targeted F-type prisons across the country, citing the inhumane conditions in such prisons. The gendarmerie raided the prisons in order to end hunger strikes and transfer inmates to new prisons. During the “Return to Life” operation, 30 inmates lost their lives after being shot with machine guns.

Now they say they raided Bank Asya to save it. They are firing machine guns and they say they just want to save lives…

Published on Today's Zaman, 05 February 2015, Thursday