November 21, 2015

Gov’t abuses trustee system to seize firms, critical media, publishers

The legal mechanisms for takeovers and seizures of private enterprises, originally designed to protect the public from losses and keep the market economy functioning unhindered, are now being blatantly abused by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to muzzle alternative voices, crack down on the media and punish opponents' firms in a political witch hunt.

The 10th İstanbul Penal Court of Peace approved public prosecutor Hüseyin Önerge's charges laid against Kaynak Holding, which consists of 23 companies, despite the fact that no evidence was presented by the prosecutor to support them. Kaynak is the leading publisher of books by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, and there is nothing strange about his name being listed in documents found on Kaynak's computers.

The decision comes less than a month after the seizure of Koza İpek Holding, one of the country's largest publicly listed conglomerates. On Oct. 27 police teams entered the holding's headquarters in Ankara and the İpek Media Group's offices, which house four media outlets owned by the holding. Dozens of people were fired, television stations belonging to the group were shut down and sales of the Bugün and Millet dailies significantly decreased following the appointment of the trustees.

In both cases, the government abused Article 133 of the Criminal Justice Law (TCP), which states that “if there is evidence that a crime has been committed within the framework of activities of a company and if it is necessity to reveal the material truth during the stage of investigation and trial, the judge or court may appoint a trustee for the undertaking of the company's business.”

Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Chairman Cem Toker said the government cannot find legal justification for the seizure of assets belonging to opposition groups and is using the trusteeship system in order to fulfill its political goals. “This decision [to take over Kaynak] will not be upheld by the [European Court of Human Rights] ECtHR. It was not based on legal justifications, and the trusteeship system was used [for illegal ends],” Toker said.

In remarks to Sunday's Zaman, Democratic Left Party (DSP) leader Masum Türker said the government should instead be instigating operations against companies supporting real terrorist organizations, such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is included on the official lists of terrorist organizations of the EU, the US and Turkey. “If only these practices were applied to groups and companies that finance terrorism. If only the companies and institutions that openly finance the PKK were subject to such practices,” Türker said.

“It would be unreasonable to view all these developments as legal. They are using a politicized law. There is a state of oppression in Turkey. People have become accustomed to the oppression and do not speak out against it,” he added.

The prosecutor overseeing the Kaynak case has claimed that there is suspicion of money laundering in the holding's accounts but has not offered any evidence to substantiate that charge. He acknowledged that money transfers to and from abroad are legal but maintained that the transfers are "against the reality of daily routine" without explaining why that is the case.

The judge's order often repeated Kaynak's alleged association with the so-called “Parallel State Structure” (PDY), when in fact there is no such organization.

In a column in Today's Zaman on Thursday, former Supreme Court of Appeals President Sami Selçuk said appointing state trustees to companies is an exception in the law and can only be applied when certain crimes as defined in the TCP have been met.

Selçuk said trustees can be appointed only if there is strong evidence that crimes cited in Articles 188, 314 and 315 of the TCP, which concern the production and trade of drugs and herbs used in drugs and the supply of weapons to armed groups, have been committed by a company's management.

“The point that needs to be underscored on this topic is as follows: If one of these crimes has been committed by [only] one of the partners in the business, there is definitely no need for a state­-appointed trustee. In such a case, one precaution that could be taken is that this partner's share could be taken over,” Selçuk said.

EU's concerns over the rule of law

The issue of the curtailment of basic rights in Turkey was touched on in the latest EU progress report on Turkey, released on Nov. 10.

Initially saying that the AK Party government had made efforts to reinvigorate the EU accession process, the report goes on to say that this repeated commitment was offset by the adoption of key legislation in the areas of the rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of media and freedom of assembly that run against European standards and continue to divide the political landscape in Turkey.

Top EU officials have also personally commented on specific developments in Turkey that have given rise to concerns over basic rights.

At a press conference in late October, Maja Kocijanic, a spokesperson for the European Commission, expressed her worries over the takeover of Koza İpek Holding. "The latest developments concerning Koza İpek Holding are worrying and we follow them closely. … Turkey, [like] any country negotiating EU membership, needs to ensure the respect of human rights, including freedom of expression, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR],” she said.

Partisan, shady figures appointed as trustees

One of the seven trustees who were appointed to Kaynak Holding in a government-backed move on Wednesday took part in an inauguration ceremony in Tajikistan in 2013 with billionaire Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani, who is facing accusations of corruption in Iran.

İmran Okumuş, who is the general manager of Ulusoy-Varan Turizm, a land transportation business, took part in the inauguration ceremony of a bus station constructed by Ulusoy Holding in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in March 2013.

All the trustees appointed by an Ankara court on Monday to the boards of directors of the companies that make up Koza İpek Holding are either members of or support the AK Party, even though trustees appointed to companies seized in this manner are required to be independent and objective. Examples of partisan trustees are Hayrullah Dağistan, an AK Party council member representing the Ümraniye Municipality in İstanbul; Fatih İçin, who works as a manager at the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality representing the AK Party; and Cavit Demiral, an assistant professor working at Kırıkkale University's faculty of law who was once an AK Party deputy candidate.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 November 2015, Saturday