September 18, 2015

Turkish Islamic lender still under political blockade

Though Turkey's largest Islamic bank, Bank Asya, has been administered by the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) since May, it is still prohibited from carrying out official transactions on behalf of public institutions.

Prior to a takeover of its management, defamatory remarks made about the bank by high-ranking state officials led to mass withdrawals by pro-government companies, which many saw as an attempt to lead the bank into financial difficulty. Ensuing cancellations of state contracts were a sign of the further application of pressure by the government on the private bank.

As its founders are sympathizers of the faith-based Hizmet or Gülen movement -- inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen -- a group that has become the latest foe of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) transferred control of the lender to the TMSF after three months of interim management. In explanation, the BDDK cited insufficient transparency in the bank's ownership structure, though most representatives of the sector have found this reasoning baseless.

Though it is now managed by a state-controlled body, rights to engage in official transactions were not reinstated. Bank Asya is no longer able to collect motor vehicle taxes (MTV) for the Revenues Administration (GİB), social security premiums for the Social Security Institution (SGK), water bills for municipalities or make payments of retirement pensions on behalf of the SGK.

The shareholders of the bank, meanwhile, are set to take legal action for what they consider to be interests damaged from would-be revenues. Süleyman Taşbaş, a lawyer representing the shareholders, regards the recent developments to be in violation of the rule of law, calling both the interim management and the ensuing change in administration illegitimate.

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 September 2015, Friday