Turkish police tear down posters asking ‘Where is the $128 billion?’

Turkey deployed hundreds of police, water cannons and cranes to tear down posters hung by the main opposition party that called on the government to explain how it spent more than $100 billion of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves.

Police swooped on offices of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) across Istanbul early on Wednesday to remove the posters, which asked “Where is the $128 billion?” video footage published on social media showed.

The CHP is accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by hanging the slogans, news website dokuz8Haber said.  

Turkey’s central bank spent tens of billions of dollars of its foreign currency reserves last year as the lira dropped to successive record lows against the dollar. In early November, Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak resigned as finance minister and has disappeared from public life, prompting the CHP and other opposition parties to call on him and Erdoğan to account for the losses.

Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the head of the CHP’s Istanbul branch, vowed to rehang the posters, saying the public had the right to know where the money had been spent.

“OK, we understood the crane, but why the riot police and water cannons? Do not be afraid, we are the people, we are the people’s party and we will protect your rights when you suffer injustice,” she said on Twitter. “Do not be afraid of the CHP, but you may be afraid of the unlawful things you do and the crimes you commit.”

Goldman Sachs said in November that the central bank spent more than $100 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the first 10 months of last year, including engaging in cross-currency swaps with state-run banks. The central bank does not publish detailed data on how the reserves are spent.

Turkish columnists including economist Kerem Alkın, who writes for the pro-government Sabah newspaper, have said that some of the reserves were used to prop up the finances of cash-strapped companies by increasing their foreign currency assets.

Erdoğan shocked foreign investors by sacking Naci Ağbal, the governor of the central bank, in mid-March after a four-month term. Ağbal’s decision to review the bank’s sales of foreign currency over the past two years had contributed to his dismissal, Reuters reported late last month citing unidentified sources.

The government denies that the central bank’s foreign currency reserves have been eroded, pointing to figures for gross reserves, which stand at $95.3 billion including gold and banks’ deposits. The data does not take account of liabilities, including the currency swaps. The bank’s reserves, including such liabilities, stand deeply in the red, economists say.