September 4, 2015

MASAK hides report proving İpek Media Group’s innocence from prosecutor

It has been revealed that the Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) did not share a significant report that proved that there was no transfer of TL 122 million to the Koza İpek Foundation -- the basis of a recent large-scale political operation targeting Koza İpek Holding -- from the prosecutor conducting the operation.

Auditors accompanied by police raided the corporate headquarters of Koza İpek Holding on Tuesday morning as well as its subsidiary companies in what the political opposition and media advocacy groups say is part of a campaign of intimidation to muzzle Turkey's free and independent media. The Bugün and Millet newspapers, TV stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, and the website are all subsidiaries of the İpek Media Group.

Speaking live on a TV show aired on the Kanaltürk station on Tuesday, CEO Akın İpek said the authorities had only given minor reasons for such a large-scale operation against a multibillion-dollar company, one of which was the allegation that Ereğli Iron and Steel Co., a subsidiary of the Erdemir Group, transferred TL 122 million to İpek's family foundation.

Media reports, however, revealed that the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) had already investigated the allegation three weeks ago and had clearly stated in its report that the money was not actually intended to be transferred to the holding's foundation but had been mistakenly transferred by the bank due to a technical failure in the bank's system. The intended recipient was Erdemir Group's own subsidiary the İskenderun Iron and Steel Co.

However, MASAK officials held back this significant report, which the BDDK sent to MASAK last week, from the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office that was conducting the operation against Koza İpek Holding. Furthermore, media reports also said the bank had informed both MASAK and Koza İpek Holding about its system failure at that time. If MASAK had sent this report to the prosecutor's office, the operation might not have even taken place.

Akbank, the bank in question, also confirmed in a written statement released by its main office in Ankara on Thursday that Koza İpek Holding had nothing to do with the TL 122 million transaction.

Furthermore, the Erdemir Group also confirmed İpek's Tuesday remarks in a press release issued on Wednesday. “No money was transferred from our group to the foundation in question. That transfer was made to our own subsidiary, İskenderun Iron and Steel Co., and all relevant records of this transfer were sent to the Finance Ministry,” the group said.

“I have never heard of a company called Ereğli Iron and Steel and I have never met its owners or any of their relatives in all my life. No one has sent even one cent of illegal money to my foundation until now from either the Ereğli Iron and Steel Co. or any other place. Our group is just trying to keep our foundation alive. In order to investigate this claim, it would be enough to send one auditor to the bank [with which the holding is working]. I don't need all the money [that was claimed to have been sent to the foundation]. I never ask for money for my foundation. How is it possible to raid such a big company just because of nefarious slander that has nothing to do with me?” İpek had said during a statement aired on Kanaltürk on Tuesday.

Opposition deputies harshly condemn raids on İpek Media Group

Speaking during a press conference held at the İzmir Journalists Association (İGC) on Friday, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Utku Çakırözen said the police raids on the İpek Media Group clearly expose the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) intention to silence all critical media outlets.

CHP deputies Fikri Sağlar, Mustafa Akaydın and Ali Şeker also held a joint press conference at Parliament on Friday during which they harshly criticized the recent police raids on the media group.

Sağlar said there is currently a mindset within the administration that believes “Those who don't think like me are my enemies,” adding: “Great pressure is being applied on the media. The aim is to prevent our citizens from learning the truth by silencing critical media. The ultimate goal of such attempts is dictatorship, which there are attempts to establish. Turkey has turned into a country that is losing prestige every day in the world due to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country is turning to a lighted fuse.”

Apart from domestic reactions, the recent raids on the media group also drew responses from overseas.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency, former Australian Prime Minister Barrie John Unsworth said the recent political developments and the raid on critical media are very concerning. Unsworth said Erdoğan has adopted a despotic manner of administration in recent years, adding the only way to sustain a despotic administration is to silence the opposition. “That is being done currently in Turkey,” the former Australian premier said.

National Union of the Journalists of Ukraine (NSJU) Vice President Sergey Tomilenko, speaking to the Cihan news agency on Friday, expressed the union's solidarity with the İpek Media Group, calling on the Turkish government to respect freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the working rights of journalists in the country.

Published on Today's Zaman, 4 September 2015, Friday