This opinion is by The Arrested Lawyers Initiative, was first published by the European Interest. Updated on 9 September 2019.
It has been more than a year since the state of emergency that the Turkish government had declared in the wake of the attempted coup ended. However, the Turkish government is still using emergency decrees to intervene and to restrict all fundamental human rights.
At the very beginning of the state of emergency rule, on 23 July, 2016, 934 private schools, 109 dormitories, 35 hospitals, 15 private universities, 19 unions, 104 foundations and 1125 associations were dissolved and all their assets, including real estate, chattels, bank accounts, intellectual properties and other financial assets, were transferred to the public treasury. As of today, 4100 profit-oriented or non-profit legal entities have been dissolved, and their assets confiscated under decree laws, without any judicial procedure.
According to Mehmet Ozhaseki, who was then the Minister of the Environment and Urban Planning, the total value of the real estate confiscated from the dissolved legal entities was 15 billion Turkish Liras. There is no reliable report available on the value of those entities’ other assets, such as brand values, intellectual properties, chattels, etc.
Another aspect of the violation of the right to property is the suspension of proprietors’ rights by assigning trustees to companies and foundations. The Erdogan Regime has been using anti-terror laws for this. Article 133 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code (TCPC), which had been applied only once from the date it entered into force (2005) until 2015; has been roughly used by the Erdogan Regime to exterminate its dissidents since October, 2015. Under Article 133 of the TCPC, if one of its shareholders or the company itself is being investigated for offences related to terrorism, the company may be seized by appointing a trustee at the decision of a Criminal Peace Judge.
The first victim of the widespread seizure practises was Koza-Ipek Holding: a conglomerate of 22 companies, including a media group with two TV channels and two daily newspapers. The holding was seized by the Erdogan Regime on the 26th October, 2015, and the management of all of its enterprises was given over to a pro-government board of trustees, According to our survey, from October, 2015, to 15th July, 2016. in the 37 provinces of Turkey, 412 enterprises, run by 273 separate companies, were seized
Under emergency rule, the Erdogan Regime’s policy of seizing the assets of dissidents entered a new phase; with new emergency decrees, the company seizure policy was centralized, the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (SDIF / TMSF) was authorized to run and to liquidate (without waiting for the end of jurisdiction) the seized companies.
Since 15th July, 2016, more that one thousand companies have been transferred to the SDIF. According to our survey, at least 850 of them were seized after the failed coup attempt.
As of today, four years after the attempted coup, 998 separate companies are still under the control of the SDIF. These companies run thousands of branches. For instance,
- Suvari Giyim Co (a clothing company), which was seized following the decision of the Adana Peace Criminal Judge, has 148 branches in 14 different countries,
- Boydak Holdings, seized following the decision of the Kayseri Peace Criminal Judge, runs 34 separate companies; just 2 of its 34 companies, Bellona and Istikbal, have 1240 furniture (franchise) stores across the world. Boydak Holdings employs 13,000 workers, and creates (indirectly) 110000 jobs.
- Other large companies which are among the 500 largest in Turkey, e.g., Koza, Dumankaya, Akfa, Orkide, Sesli, Naksan, were also seized and transferred to the SDIF.
As of 5th September, 2019, the SDIF controls and manages 998 seized companies, and also the assets of 113 real persons. As announced on the web site of the SDIF, the total worth of the seized companies is 58.94 billion Turkish liras (appx. 9.31 Billion Euro).
The seized companies are active in all areas of business and trade life, such as investment, mining, petrol distribution, automotive, auto-gas, energy, transportation, food, agriculture, home textile (curtains, carpets), furniture, jewellery, pharmacy, stationery, financial consulting, law, hardware, metal industry, decoration, delivery service, information technologies, and many others.
The Erdogan Regime has systemically been impoverishing dissidents, either by seizing their assets or confiscating them outright in blatant abuse of the emergency rule, which has recently been extended for the seventh time. According to official statements by the SDIF (Savings Deposits Insurance Fund ) and the Minister, Mr. Ozhaseki, the total value of the assets confiscated by the Turkish Government is 75 billion Turkish liras (12 billion Euros). The figure does not include the value of the seized assets of 127 persons, of the dissolved entities’ (19 unions, 15 private universities, 49 hospitals, 145 foundations, 174 media outlets, 1419 foundations, and another 2271 educational companies, such as dormitories, prep schools, private schools) or confiscated chattels. The value of such seizures may be increases to as much as 100 billion Turkish liras if those asset values are included.
Arbitrary violations of rights to property have devastating effects on a county’s prospects of economic development. Insecurity among investors, domestic or otherwise, in relation to their investments, often result in serious economic crises in countries like Turkey, which is heavily dependent on foreign investments and, consequently, these impoverish not only the dissidents, but also the supporters of their respective regimes.
Related | See: Building a Competitive Authoritarian Regime: State–Business Relations in the AKP’s Turkey, Berk Esen & Sebnem Gumuscu.
If public procurement and privatization allowed for allocation of public resources to private entrepreneurs, debt collection through the Saving Deposits Insurance Fund (Tasarruf Mevduatı Sigorta Fonu, TMSF) proved to be a major means of capital transfer within the capitalist class. The TMSF, which became central in debt collection from bankrupt banks and their parent companies after the 2001 financial crisis, eventually turned into the AKP’s instrument of capital transfer to the growing number of pro-AKP businesses. Since 2002 the TMSF has confiscated 219 companies from Uzan Holding,117 from Dinç Bilgin’s Medya Holding, nine from Mehmet Emin Karamehmet’s Çukurova Holding, and 38 from Aksoy Holding. The TMSF also confiscated the properties of these companies and their main shareholders. A number of these companies were later transferred to pro-AKP business under favourable terms and limited tender methods.
The AKP government has also used the TMSF to punish its opponents. Entrepreneurs affiliated with the Gulen movement, whose spiritual leader recently broke ranks with Erdoğan, are a case in point. Whereas their firms had received state favours and prospered as a result between 2002 and 2013, those businessmen who remained loyal to Gülen after his feud with Erdoğan found themselves under government assault. The case of Bank Asya, owned by Fethullah Gülen movement, is particularly important. In response to fierce opposition from the Gülen network, the AKP government mobilized its power in the TMSF to take over the shares of the bank, partly owned by Gülenist firms, in June 2015.
Since the TMSF’s authority is limited to companies affiliated with failed banks, the government devised other means to transfer capital from opponents to its supporters. Bankruptcy trustees have recently played a key role in taking over the control of companies and foundations affiliated with government critics. Initially a part of the bankruptcy deferral clause, the ruling party amended Article 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow the appointment of trustees to allegedly crime-related property. Thus, for the ruling party, trusteeship turned into a powerful tool to intimidate and ultimately weaken its opponents within the business community. Furthermore, by appointing party members to trustee positions with high salaries, the government used this measure to reward its supporters from the private sector’s payroll. The Gülen movement has been particularly hard hit by this policy. In an unprecedented decision, for instance, a criminal court appointed a trustee for Koza İpek Holding, citing ‘strong suspicions of providing financial assistance to the Fethullah Gülen movement’. All Akın İpek’s properties along with his media companies were later seized by the court. From October 2015 to June 2016 courts appointed 1200 trustees to more than 350 organizations, including educational institutions, hospitals, and companies of varying sizes with alleged ties to the Gülen movement. As part of this pattern, after the AKP’s November 2015 election victory, Istanbul Court of Peace placed Zaman—the flagship daily of the Gülen movement—under the management of trustees who subsequently decided to end its operations. After this, several major holding companies left the pro-Gülen business association (TUSKON) and declared their loyalty to the government in public statements, for fear of government reprisals. Scores of companies with alleged ties to the Gülen movement were placed under bankruptcy trusteeship after the failed coup attempt of July 2016, which the AKP government accused the Gülen movement of initiating. To avoid clampdowns, several businessmen, known for their sympathies for the Gülen movement, once again printed ads in major newspapers reaffirming their political loyalty to the AKP government. The government, however, refused to spare these companies; and placed them under bankruptcy trusteeship, later to be transferred to the TMSF. The total assets of these companies amount to US$13 billion. The TMSF is given the authority to liquidate or sell these companies to their new owners. The government also seized the assets of the Gülen movement—more than 5500 pieces of real estate—worth US$4 billion. These assets were transferred to the treasury and the foundations directorate. Thus, in the aftermath of the coup attempt, the government has recovered a new source of capital to be taken away from the AKP’s opponents and transferred to the party’s loyal supporters. The fact that prior to the falling out of the former allies pro-Gülen companies affiliated with TUSKON had received 75% of public procurement contracts awarded to politically connected firms between 2004 and 2011 signals another major wave of capital transfer from government critics to those loyal to the AKP. Indeed, Erdoğan clearly expressed that the AKP government had allocated resources (i.e. landed property) to the Gülen movement in the past, and thanks to the emergency law the government is able to retrieve these resources from the movement.