In what is seen as a political maneuver just a week before the June 7 parliamentary election, the much-debated government crackdown on the country's largest Islamic lender has jolted global market analysts and politicians, who drew a dark picture of Turkish markets, which are highly dependent on foreign capital inflow.
The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) announced late last Friday that it had handed over control of lender Bank Asya to the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). The bank was already being administered by an interim board assigned by the TMSF on Feb. 3, when the months-long political pressure on the bank was intensified.
In an e-mail note to Today's Zaman on Monday, William Jackson at Capital Economics said the move has sparked concerns over future of foreign investments into Turkey.
“It's clearly difficult to disentangle the extent to which the takeover by the BDDK is politically motivated. But the fact that there are concerns that it is politically motivated will reinforce fears that Sunday's election could result in more authoritarian policymaking that damages the business environment. And these fears alone may result in lower direct investment into Turkey.”
Jackson also added: “The crucial point here is that Turkey is heavily reliant on foreign capital inflows to fund domestic demand (hence it runs a large current account deficit), and the vulnerability posed by the current account deficit depends in part on the type of foreign capital inflows that fund this. In this regard, it's worth noting that direct investment inflows tend to be relatively stable and made with longer term horizons compared with portfolio inflows or banking sector inflows. So all in all, deterioration in the business environment may make the lira even more volatile, keeping interest rates higher and growth weaker.”
The lira has already fallen by nearly 13 percent against the US dollar this year alone.
In a statement issued on Monday, Credit Suisse also said the takeover may have negative effects on the confidence in Turkish market and risk premiums of the properties in the country.
Founded by sympathizers of the faith-based Hizmet (service) movement, also known as the Gülen movement -- inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen -- in 1996, Bank Asya has long been in the news as a target of an intimidation campaign led by high-ranking state officials as well as pro-government media outlets and businessmen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses supporters of the Hizmet movement of organizing “a coup attempt,” referencing investigations into corruption and bribery in 2013 that implicated several Cabinet ministers, Erdoğan's sons and pro-government businessmen.
Greens leader: ‘Bank Asya situation shows Erdogan has no respect for democracy.'
The co-chairwoman of the Greens Group in the European Parliament Rebecca Harms, in a statement on Sunday, said the takeover of Bank Asya has shown that both the Turkish government and Erdoğan have lost their respect for democracy.
“The announced silencing of opposition media in Turkey is now already taking place. Not only by threatening and beating up journalists, but also by taking over Bank Asya, [the] government and president of Turkey show that they have lost respect for democratic rules. A negative trend in polls for the AKP [the Justice and Development Party or AK Party] seems to be the reason for a more aggressive strategy against opposition media. This is not compatible with fundamental rules for democratic electoral process,” Harms maintained.
International media agree
Tagesschau, the web portal of Germany's state-run Constortium of Public Broadcasters in Germany (ARD) asked whether the Turkish government has deliberately broken the resistance of Bank Asya, and recalled that pro-government businesspeople have recently withdrawn large sums of money from the lender under pressure from Erdoğan.
Germany's economic media outlets, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten (DWN) and Handelsblatt, have echoed this reaction to the government's recent attacks against the bank.
Leading French daily Le Monde, in the meantime, announced the seizure with a headline reading “The 10th largest bank of the country seized a week before elections,” in reference to the move's apparent political motivation.
The Saudi Arabia-based Al-Watan, Lebasenese newspaper Al-Akhbar and Kuwait-based Roayah News also suggested the decision was a political move by Erdoğan to suppress any organization critical of his government.
Opposition blasts arbitrary move, decries political manipulation
The latest move in a prolonged smear campaign against the bank, the seizure has drawn ire both domestically and internationally. Though Ali Babacan, the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, claimed there was no political motive in the seizure of Bank Asya, opposition deputies and market analysts claim the exact opposite.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli told Today's Zaman on Sunday, “The decision, made just eight days before the election, has been perceived as a political, rather than an economic one.”
In a televised interview on Sunday night, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu shared his concerns over the security of property rights in Turkey and said: “They need to come up with a reasonable justification. Is the bank posting profit? Yes. Then why seize it? [The decision] should startle, not just the banking industry, but the whole business world. Why don't foreign investors come to Turkey [anymore]? [Because] they have no security of life and property.”
Though it suffered great losses in 2014 on declining loans and deposits, due to mass withdrawals by pro-government firms and institutions, along with a cancelation of state agreements, such as tax collection and social security payment contracts, the lender still racked in a net profit of TL 13 million in the first quarter of 2015 and has a capital adequacy ratio of 18 percent, one of the highest in the sector.
Another CHP deputy, Mahmut Tanal, posted a tweet immediately after the seizure was made public, saying: “I just learned the TMSF seized Bank Asya. Instead of saving them, the TMSF has always sunk the banks that it took over.”
Emphasizing that the move was aimed at changing the agenda, he added: “This is a warning to the world of business and it violates [the law regarding] property rights. The decision is not judicial but completely political.”
CHP Deputy Chairman Faik Öztrak underscored possible judicial sanctions of the move and added: “The watchdog seized the management control of Bank Asya in February, citing missing [identification] documents [from shareholders]. Since then, the TMSF has governed the bank. It is a seizure of a bank that was already being administered by the TMSF itself. This sequence of actions is quite questionable.”
Selin Sayek Böke, the CHP's deputy chair in charge of economic policy, presented a franker assessment of the decision: “To seize a lender that posts a profit with an adequate capital is just a political hijack. … It is being discussed that [shareholders of] the lender will receive huge compensation payments after a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling. Who will pay this money? The Turkish public.”
In an interview with a national daily on Monday, TMSF Chairman Şakir Ercan Gül said: “Net assets of the bank are positive. We will not touch the shares of the founding partners and shareholders in the stock exchange. The bank has been handed over to the TMSF just to resolve its problems.”
Gül's remarks triggered speculation that the government -- which has long been mulling over the sale of the lender to another firm -- is now trying to increase the market price of Bank Asya.
Bank Asya's shares were temporarily closed to trade on Monday. They had already been on the stock exchange's watch list since last September, where companies are kept under surveillance.
Published on Today's Zaman, 01 June 2015, Monday