Turkey’s banking watchdog seizes Bank Asya in politically-motivated move

Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) has seized the country’s largest Islamic lender Bank Asya on Friday evening as a result of a months-long unlawful government-orchestrated campaign targeting the bank.

The BDDK announced its decision late on Friday while reports of seizure appeared in pro-government outlets hours before the BDDK announcement.

The government whistleblower Fuat Avni, whose revelations were earlier proven to be true, also tweeted earlier in the day that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked the banking watchdog to seize long-oppressed Bank Asya.

The whistleblower said Erdoğan met with the board members of the BDDK at 3.00 p.m. and ordered newly appointed chair of the watchdog to seize Bank Asya in a bid to consolidate the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) votes ahead of a parliamentary election that is slated for June 7.

Mehmet Ali Akben was appointed as the president of BDK on May 15.

When the president found out that AK Party would not form a cabinet by itself, he decided to crank up the “Bank Asya issue,” Fuat Avni maintained.

Even though Akben warned against possible judicial sanctions in case of seizure, Erdoğan reportedly insisted on his request blasting the new chair. Fuat Avni also claimed that recent reports released by pro-government media outlets which read 800,000 transaction records had been deleted in a year were published at the behest of Erdoğan.

The BDDK ruled on Feb. 3 that management control of 63 percent of the privileged shares held by A-type shareholders be handed over to the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). The agency claimed that some privileged shareholders in Bank Asya had failed to submit certain documents to the agency within one-and-a-half months, including documents regarding criminal records, audited financial records, tax records for five years, property records and accounts in other banks. The shareholders were asked to provide the documents for themselves and for any corporate holdings in which they had ownership. The short time allowed by the agency for the submission of the documents, however, has stirred reactions from shareholders.

Bank Asya shareholders supplied the requested documentation and lodged a complaint with the banking watchdog, accusing it of damaging the financial interests of the bank’s shareholders, and vowed to take legal action.

Bank Asya, founded by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen sympathizers, has seen depositors including state-owned firms and institutions withdraw funds this year in what it has described as a systematic campaign to undermine it.

Pro-government newspapers carried almost daily reports on Bank Asya’s woes earlier last year, portraying it as a failing bank being propped up by members of Gülen movement.

The government canceled tax collection and social security payment contracts with Bank Asya in August.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in several occasions expressed defamatory remarks about the bank, accusing it of having bad financials, and even once claiming that the bank has already sank.

International credit rating agencies and opposition figures earlier warned that what appeared to many as an attempt to sink Bank Asya due to its links to the Gülen movement — a faith-based community inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen which has being targeted by high state officials recently — would be very harmful to the economy, noting that the Islamic lender has a strong deposit structure.

Reactions pour in against BDDK decision to seize Bank Asya

Friday’s BDDK decision drew strong reactions with economists and political analysts terming the decision as an unlawful move that will negatively affect the economy.

“The Bank Asya decision is an arbitrary and unlawful act of oppression. Foreign capital will now fear entering Turkish market,” economy professor İbrahim Öztürk said during a live interview late of Friday. He also expressed belief that the state will have to return the bank to its shareholders and the state will pay compensation for this unlawful seizure.

Political scientist Mümtazer Türköne termed the seizure as a “suicide attack.” “This is an economic terrorist attack,” he said, suggesting that the government is shooting itself in the foot with such an unlawful decision.

Sami Karahan, a professor of commercial and banking law, said the seizure is an act of “political hijacking” of private property and it is completely against the laws and the Constitution. “Those who did this will sooner or later give an account for these,” he said.

The opposition also criticized the BDDK decision. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Lütfü Türkan said the seizure of Bank Asya shows that the government’s “ship is sinking.”

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Mahmut Tanal said the seizure is a result of a completely political decision, saying the seizure violates the right to private property and is a threat to the business world.

Twitter users also protested the decision under the hashtag #BankAsyaHUKUKSUZLUĞU (Bank Asya unlawfullness) with millions of tweets being posted within hours after the BDDK decision.

The Bank Asya operation is the latest in a series of government’s controversial attempts to consolidate its power by oppressing critics. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who is the minister responsible for the Turkish economy and is considered an anchor of foreign investor confidence in Turkey, has recently voiced concerns about the rule of law in Turkey, warning that if the situation continues to deteriorate, the country would miss the current relative stability of the economy in the subsequent economic downturn.