Lawyer launches action against former prime minister for bank neglect

A lawyer for Turkey’s Islamist Felicity Party (SP) has launched legal action against leading figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for allowing the continued operation of a bank whose clientele would later be criminalised for supporting an outlawed organisation, Turkish news site OdaTV reported on Monday.

SP lawyer Ali Aktaş prepared the criminal complaint against a list of the AKP’s highest ranking members, including former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, saying that if citizens are deemed to have committed a crime by holding accounts in Bank Asya, the government that left the bank open is culpable of malpractice and negligence.

Besides Davutoğlu, the list of high profile figures names in the complaint include Mehmet Şimşek, a former finance minister responsible in 2014 for Turkey’s banking regulator, Ali Babacan, another former minister who was responsible at the time for the Revenue Department, as well as the banking regulator, Revenue Department, and social security administrators.

Bank Asya had its banking permits revoked in July 2016, days after the AKP government survived a coup attempt it says was carried out by members of the Gülen religious movement. The bank is widely thought to be owned and operated by Gülenists, band prosecutors have used the ownership of a Bank Asya account as evidence against many Turks alleged to be members of the outlawed Gülen movement.

“Thousands of citizens have been ... charged with intentionally aiding an illegal organisation for opening new accounts or making deposits at Bank Asya in 2014 and the first half of 2015,” Aktaş’s complaint reads.

These charges, it notes, referred to a period when the Gülen movement, once considered an ally of the AKP government, had apparently come to blows with it.

Corruption probes launched against a series of high-ranking AKP officials in December 2013 are thought by many to have been set in motion by prosecutors and police officers affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Bank Asya’s stock plummeted in 2014 after the government cancelled contracts with the bank in response to the corruption probes, which marked the beginning of a period of bad blood between the Gülenists and the Turkish government that has defined the country’s politics since.

The Turkish government says the movement’s leader, Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, ordered thousands of members to make deposits in the bank to save it from looming bankruptcy. It had lost a huge portion of its income from the government contracts, but also from the custom ordinary Turks, who steered clear of a financial institution deemed undesirable by the government.

While the bank was taken over by Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund in February 2015, it was not until after the coup that its permits were finally revoked.

Aktaş’s complaint argues that by leaving a bank which it defines as the financial wing of an illegal organisation open to accept deposits later declared illegal, the government of the time was also culpable of misconduct, negligence and failure to report a crime.

Responding to criticism on Twitter over why he did not include the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, among the ministers on the complaint, Aktaş said in a tweet that he was well aware of the fact that Erdoğan was the real culprit overseeing the bank, but that banking regulations in that period do not identify Erdoğan as the responsible party.