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Hand of Erdogan seen in insurer’s takeover of Gulenist bank 7 février 2015

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (USA Ed) February 7, 2015, p. 2

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul

Move follows accusations that president is using regulatory agencies to crush his enemies.

Ahmet Beyaz was working late on Tuesday when representatives of a state regulator arrived with police and told him he was no longer chief executive of Bank Asya, Turkey ‘s largest Islamic bank.

The Savings and Deposits Insurance Fund (TMSF) has long faced criticism for concentrating its fire on government opponents and transferring assets to government allies. But its role in cementing state control over Bank Asya , whose assets Mr Beyaz puts at TL14bn, ($5.7bn) is a new departure.

It is one of the most dramatic developments to date in a battle in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan , Turkey’s domineering president, has been accused of using regulatory agencies to crush enemies and further his political agenda.

The move on the bank is part of a crackdown by Turkey’s government on the movement of Fethullah Gulen , an ally-turned enemy of Mr Erdogan. Bank Asya is seen as a financial bedrock of the Gulenists.

« Things are getting progressively worse in Turkey, » says a former shareholder in Bank Asya. « It is just not the done thing in international capital markets to replace a bank’s management for spurious reasons. »

TMSF was set up with a role that includes seizing assets from shareholders in failed banks to recompense the state for guaranteeing deposits. Under Mr Erdogan, it has been involved in several contentious seizures and transfers.

These include the 2008 sale, partly financed by two state banks, of ATV-Sabah , a media group, to a conglomerate headed by Mr Erdogan’s son-in-law; the fund’s 2013 appointment of a former MP of the ruling AK party as editor-in-chief of Aksam, a previously independent newspaper ; and an asset freeze, during municipal elections last year, against the leading opposition candidate for mayor of Istanbul because of an allegedly unpaid loan dating back to 1998.

« We are not in a Russian scenario yet, » said Wolfango Piccoli of Teneo, a consultancy. « But this is potentially the most significant example of the back-rolling of all sorts of regulatory independence over the last couple of years. »

TMSF denied it had a political agenda, adding that many decisions had been upheld in courts in Turkey and beyond.

The affair has also drawn attention to Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervisory Agency, which took the decision to hand the bank’s management to TMSF, and which has also come under pressure from Mr Erdogan.

The president called in September for the regulator to « make a decision » and « take steps » on Bank Asya, warning that « otherwise it is the BRSA that will be responsible ». In December, the BRSA asked the bank’s preferred shareholders for information, including tax returns for the past five years, Mr Beyaz said.

Most failed to meet a January 26 deadline, and the bank’s management was subsequently taken over on Tuesday on grounds of lack of transparency.

« Our shareholders said it was not sufficient time to prepare that information, » Mr Beyaz recalled.

While the authorities said the action was also to avoid a « new failing bank », Mr Beyaz responded that Bank Asya had a capital adequacy ratio of 18 per cent at the end of September, compared with an industry average of 15 per cent and legal requirements of 12 per cent.

But he acknowledged that non-performing loans had soared over the past year while deposits almost halved, developments he blamed on a campaign against the bank, which has included state-linked groups pulling out funds.

« This is not legal, » Mr Beyaz told a press conference yesterday, as he vowed to return to the bank.

Additional reporting by Funja Guler


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