February 4, 2015

Opposition lashes out at gov’t for Bank Asya operation, says economy will suffer

Opposition parties have blasted the takeover of the management of Bank Asya by Turkey's state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), widely described as a politically motivated move designed to intimidate, warning that the government-orchestrated crackdown will inflict a heavy toll on the economy.

“From now on, Turkey will be seen as a country which [tries to] bankrupts banks upon the instructions of politicians,” Faik Öztrak, deputy chairman in charge of the economic and financial policies of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), has told Today's Zaman.

In an operation late on Tuesday evening, the TMSF suddenly took control of the board of the bank, which is Turkey's biggest Islamic lender. Öztrak, who described the operation against the bank as ill intentioned, underlined that Turkey is sure to pay a heavy price economically for the operation. “After all this, it will take 20 years to regain the trust of foreign investors,” he said, stressing that it is not possible for the government to manage the economy unless it gives confidence to the business world.

Bank Asya, which is affiliated with the Gülen movement, is one of the three strongest banks in Turkey, with its capital adequacy ratio at about 20 percent. The average ratio of banks in Turkey is around 14-15 percent. The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) ordered the TMSF to take control of 63 percent of the bank's stocks and appointed a new board of directors. The banking watchdog claimed that the bank had "violated the conditions that it should maintain transparency with an open partnership structure and organizational scheme."

For Öztrak, who formerly served as director of the Treasury in the early 2000s, the government-orchestrated operation is not well intentioned. “This is the first time I have seen such an intervention,” he said, noting that the TMSF had never previously been authorized to manage a bank based on a BDDK decision. “This method is not as innocent as it is claimed to be,” the CHP deputy chairman added, implying that the government- orchestrated operation is aimed at intimidating sympathizers of the Gülen movement, which is also called Hizmet.

Following two sweeping graft probes that went public in December 2013, the government has launched a smear campaign against the movement, which it accused of being behind the probes. The movement is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fehullah Gülen.

Noting that the failure on the part of the bank to present to the BDKK certain information and documents, apparently required to be delivered within a short time, is being used as grounds for the intervention, Öztrak said, “If you are not well-intentioned, you demand documents to be delivered within a time period in which it would not be possible for the bank to provide them, and then, place your own men on the board.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has on several occasions made defamatory remarks about the bank, accusing it of having a weak financial standing, and once even claiming that the bank had already sunk.

The CHP's Öztrak said in a Twitter message on Wednesday, “There is no freedom of enterprise if a bank is being sunk upon instruction from the president.”

Oktay Vural, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said at a press meeting on Wednesday that the operation aimed at bankrupting the bank could easily ruin the Turkish economy. Noting that the operation is not based on any objective grounds but rather on enmity towards the Gülen movement, Vural warned at the meeting in Parliament that all banks may one day find themselves faced with the same government-orchestarted threat. “This threat is for us all, for the whole nation,” he said. Referring to the president's previous remarks about Bank Asya, Vural accused Erdoğan of lying because the BDDK did not seize Bank Asya for having gone bankrupt as Erdoğan had claimed. “It means you lied. A state should not treat its own free enterprises as an enemy,” Vural stressed.

Bank Asya, founded by Gülen sympathizers, saw depositors -- including state-owned firms and institutions -- withdraw funds last year as part of a campaign to sink it.

Masum Türker, the leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), has also warned that the illegal operation against Bank Asya will inflict a huge blow on the credibility of the country as a reliable market for international investors. “The Turkish Republic is no longer considered an investor-friendly country in the international arena,” Türker told Today's Zaman, adding that no investor would feel secure about the fate of his investment in a country in which the rule of law does not prevail. The DSP leader considers the operation against the bank as groundless because no official complaint regarding the bank's capital report was heard until now, which is an indication that the bank has a sound financial position. “This is an operation aimed to intimidate,” the DSP leader added, accusing the government of having taken a step that will heavily damage the economy.

For Türker, the operation against Bank Asya is based on political motivations and is part of the government's witch hunt against the Gülen movement following the graft probes of December 2014, in which four Cabinet ministers were implicated. The DSP leader fears the operation against the bank will prepare the ground for the government to ruin the media outlets owned by sympathizers of Gülen movement.

“With this operation against Bank Asya, they [the government] will seek to get the Samanyolu television channel and the Zaman daily,” Türker said, noting that the government proceeded in the past in the same way before seizing certain other media groups in Turkey. The DSP leader called on people not to remain silent in the face of the operation against Bank Asya because the government is sure, he said, to also knock on other doors in future. Noting that the government is keen to suppress all opposition, Türker said those who have money in the bank should not feel anxious. “The government has to pay everybody their money; you can also take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR],” he stressed.

Selin Sayek Böke, the CHP deputy chairwoman in charge of economic policy, has described the government-led operation as scandalous. Böke, who also underlined that the operation would cost Turkey a lot in terms of economic output, said in a written statement on Wednesday that it was also a scandal that the operation was leaked before it was launched.

Noting that the value of the bank's shares on the stock exchange diminished before the operation, she said the credibility of autonomous regulatory bodies in the economy would be heavily damaged as the operation revealed that they had bowed to government pressure.

Ertuğrul Günay, a deputy who resigned from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) shortly after the graft probes of December 2013, has criticized the government for acting out of vengeance. “Such efforts [to sink a bank] are both against the law and the rules of the free market,” Günay told Today's Zaman. “It is not an indication of mental strength to try to sink a strong bank,” he added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 04 February 2015, Wednesday