Turks who rushed to save Bank Asya when Erdoğan wanted to sink it labelled as terrorists

Thousands of citizens gathered in front of Bank Asya’s headquarters in İstanbul and its local branhes following the midnight police-backed raid on Turkey’s largest Islamic bank on February 3, 2015.

Nordic Monitor

 

A public prosecutor in Turkey labelled a civilian rally to save Bank Asya against attacks carried out by the Turkish government as evidence of membership in a terrorist organization, the records of a secret investigation obtained by Nordic Monitor have exposed.

In a batch of notices, warrants and proceedings within the scope of investigation number 2014/47593 into the employees of Kaynak Holding — a major conglomerate that owned dozens of firms including the largest publisher in Turkey and affiliated with government critic the Gülen movement — İstanbul Anatolia Chief Public Prosecutor Alim Yaşar described routine banking transactions such as depositing money or taking out loans as illegal acts.

The movement, led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on pervasive corruption in the government and Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups in Syria and other places, has faced an unprecedented crackdown in recent years. Businesses affiliated with the movement were unlawfully seized and people who were seen as supportive of the movement were prosecuted on charges of terrorism in a political witch-hunt carried out by the Turkish president to sustain his repressive regime.

The prosecutor decided on February 12, 2015 to inspect the connections of Kaynak Holding employees with Bank Asya in search of dubious evidence to substantiate allegations of organized crime.

 

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Time and again the prosecutor described ordinary transactions in a legally authorized, strictly regulated, professionally administered and independently audited bank as indicators of terrorist acts. Yaşar further summed up in a report on August 31, 2016 the findings of his investigations that 4,038 employees who had deposited money or opened new accounts must be punished as members of an armed terrorist group.

On February 12, 2018 the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that depositing money in Bank Asya after January 2015 alone was enough to punish people affiliated with the Gülen movement as terrorists even if there was no other proof showing the person’s connection to the movement.

 

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In the report the prosecutor said the inspection was initiated after a tip that Kaynak Holding employees were taking out loans from Yapı Kredi Bank and depositing the money in Bank Asya. He sent Yapı Kredi an official demand for all records of the employee transactions. Yapı Kredi responded on April 19, 2016, stating that 5,128 employees of Kaynak Holding-affiliated companies had accounts at the bank and that 659 of them had taken out loans.

In the inspection notes, the prosecutor also mentions an e-mail from a Kaynak employee named Emre Yelden to a couple of friends in which he informs them of the possibility and procedures of securing loans from Şekerbank. The prosecutor included a screenshot of this email correspondence in his investigation file and noted that 11 recipients of the email actually took out loans from Şekerbank.

 

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The prosecutor then attempted to back up his claims by including a news story from government mouthpiece the Sabah daily, owned by Erdoğan’s family. The story includes the transcript of an illegally wiretapped phone conversation between Fethullah Gülen, who lives in a country retreat center located in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, and an unidentified person on December 25, 2013. The person told Gülen that some big companies like Turkish Airlines were poised to withdraw cash from Bank Asya en masse and in enormous amounts under Erdogan’s instructions to put the bank in a tight spot and eventually sink it. The person suggested that some companies might deposit more money in their accounts at Bank Asya to stave off any possible weakening of the bank’s financial standing. Gülen approved the suggestion and advised that the measure should be taken without losing any time.

Contrary to what prosecutor Yaşar thought, in this telephone conversation, which was already ineligible to be considered evidence since it was not obtained through a court order and since it included not even the slightest trace of any crime, Gülen was not calling on his followers to mobilize to save the bank. That call would come on January 1, 2015.

 

 

Bank Asya headquarters

The prosecutor then included images of tweets shared under the hashtag of #BankAsyaSıfırlanamaz (BankAsyaCannotBeZeroed, referring to a wiretap in which Erdoğan asks his son Bilal to move all the money stashed at home after he learned about a graft operation in December 2013). In these tweets people encourage other movement members with “all hands on deck” calls and criticize Erdoğan’s blatant attack on a financial institution, which is a serious crime under Turkish banking laws. None of the messages cited by the prosecutor included anything that could be perceived or interpreted as a crime.

In another piece of evidence, the prosecutor points to “open sources” of information, mainly a report by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) on the opening of 192,000 new accounts at Bank Asya.

 

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Among the documents was also a communication by prosecutor Yaşar addressing the Aydın Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2017. There, too, Yaşar counts a campaign to obtain money through the liquidation of assets and loans from other banks to deposit in Bank Asya accounts as indications of organized crime membership.

The Turkish Cabinet designated the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization following corruption investigations in December 2013 into businessmen, public officials and members of the government. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed the graft operation was a judicial coup against his government. He said the assertions were lies, that the operation was devised by international powers envious of Turkey’s rise and that the Gülen movement was the proxy for such powers. He immediately started to label as a “criminal organization.”

The government then initiated an unprecedented purge of members of the judiciary and law enforcement who had a hand in the operations. Implicated in the corruption operation files as having orchestrated a large network of embezzlement and blackmail, Erdoğan pursued an offensive course by striking a partnership with a neo-nationalist group led by Doğu Perinçek against the Gülen movement.

 

Tens of thousands of people continued formed long lines in front of Bank Asya branches across Turkey to deposit large sums of money into their accounts on the second day of the government-orchestrated crackdown on Turkey’s largest Islamic bank after a banking watchdog’s decision to take over the bank’s management.

 

Upon a detailed inspection of Bank Asya accounts, the prosecution said it had found the records of some 4,038 Kaynak Holding employees. The evidence, according to the prosecutor, identified these people as having deposited cash in their Bank Asya accounts to “save” the bank as per the calls to deposit money by “either taking out loans from other banks or selling assets such as a house or car.” The prosecution was also able to determine that some people who did not have accounts at the bank before the movement’s distress call rushed to open accounts and put money in them.

 

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In one of the attachments of the secret document the director of the Istanbul Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit, Ömer Kumlu, asks the İstanbul Social Security Institution Provincial Directorate to provide detailed information on some 50 Kaynak Holding companies. In line with the instructions of the prosecutor, Kumlu in particular asks for the identification information and home and email addresses of all employees registered in these companies for the years 2014 and 2015. The procedure must be carried out in full confidentiality and was “extremely urgent,” he stressed.

 

Istanbul Police Department financial crimes unit director  Ömer Kumlu.

After obtaining the information he wanted from the Social Security Institution, Kumlu dispatched another mandate, this time to Bank Asya, formally requesting all details regarding the account activities of these employees in line with the prosecutor’s instructions. The written order is dated December 27, 2015, seven months after Bank Asya was seized and its management overhauled. In a follow-up document also attached to the investigation folder, two officials from the bank responded to Kumlu’s request that all information had been collected as demanded and was presented in digital format in an attached DVD.

 

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Bank Asya, founded in the 1990s by investors close to the Gülen movement, was a well-capitalized and popular private lender that was seized by the government in 2015 on fabricated charges. It was operating under relevant laws and regulations until it was seized, and it had been given a clean bill of health every year since it began operations in 1996. The government considers any person who had an account at the bank to be a potential terrorist, which means millions of people who had a relationship with the duly authorized and licensed  bank have been targeted as part of a witch hunt.

Tens of thousands of people formed long lines in front of Bank Asya branches across Turkey on February 4, 2015 to deposit large sums into their accounts in response to the state-run Savings Deposit Insurance Fund’s (TMSF) decision to take over most of Bank Asya’s management as part of a government-orchestrated crackdown on institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement. Many customers sold belongings, including furniture and wedding rings, and put money into their accounts. Hundreds of people gathered at Asya’s headquarters in İstanbul to protest the crackdown.

 

A defamatory article that appeared in the Sabah daily, owned by Erdogan’s family, which was used as evidence in the criminal investigation:

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