June 10, 2015

Bank Asya owners file case with court to regain control of shares

A case to challenge the takeover by regulators of Turkey's leading Islamic lender, Bank Asya -- a move widely regarded as political -- has been sent to court, Süleyman Taşbaş, a lawyer for the bank's shareholders, told reporters on Wednesday in İstanbul.

Taşbaş said the shareholders are confident that the court will return Asya shares to their rightful owners, adding that the takeover of the bank was not legally possible under banking law; however, the regulators went ahead with their decision.

“A legal team representing the rightful owners of the bank has filed for a stay of execution against the Ankara Regional Administrative Court, as well as the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency [BDDK] who handed the bank over to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund [TMSF],” Taşbaş said on Wednesday. Taşbaş asserted that none of the reasons the BDDK cited for the seizure of Bank Asya were legally or financially justifiable.

The BDDK had cited the alleged absence of shareholder information.

“The required data on partners of the bank can easily be obtained from all state bodies, and such information is already in the possession of the BDDK,” Taşbaş said. Bank Asya lawyers have drafted a 300-page case file which may end up reaching over 60,000 pages once completed. The file outlines the political measures, legal flaws in the orders by the BDDK and the subsequent takeover of the bank by the TMSF. The lawsuit petition alone was recorded at 52 pages. Fifteen separate criminal complaints were filed over libel and false rumors spread regarding the bank by the pro-government press. The lawyer notes that such reports have the intention of manipulating public perception and defaming the bank and as such constitute discrimination.

Earlier this month, the main Turkish stock exchange, Borsa İstanbul (BİST), said the shareholders of a recently seized Islamic lender still own the bank. Following this statement TMSF Chairman Şakir Ercan Gül said: “The bank's equity capital ratio is strong. We will not touch the shares of the founding partners and shareholders on the stock exchange. The bank has been handed over to the TMSF just to resolve its problems.” Finance experts say it is possible to take over a bank only if the lender loses all of its equity. Bank Asya currently holds TL 1.7 billion in equity. Earlier this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the seizure of Asya is the most important step in the struggle against the “parallel structure,” contradicting an earlier comment by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who said the takeover was not political.

Erdoğan and his followers frequently use the term “parallel state” to refer to sympathizers of Hizmet movement, also known as the Gülen movement and inspired by US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Bank Asya was founded by supporters of the Hizmet movement.

Indrit Hoxha, assistant professor of economics at Pennsylvania State University, earlier told Today's Zaman that credit rating agencies have already characterized the intervention in Bank Asya “a black mark” on Turkey's track record of prudent banking regulation since the country's 2001 financial crisis.

Published on Today's Zaman, 10 June 2015, Wednesday