Turkish government hid behind ‘client privacy’ and ‘trade secret’ protections in revealing how much credit and advertisement payments by state-lenders was funneled to pro-government media that is controlled by the family members and business associates of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Responding to Parliamentary questions on this issue on April 27, 2017, Mehmet Şimşek, Deputy Prime Minister whose portfolio included state-owned banks Ziraat Bank, Halk Bank, and Vakıf Bank, did not say anything but included responses provided by all three banks.
The documents revealed to the public recently showed banks declined to provide any information in response to the question asked by İzmir deputy Ali Yiğit who said the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım must disclose credits and ad payments made to media outlets by state-owned banks and how much of the debt is delinquent and subject to collection, settlement negotiations.
Ziraat Bank General Manager Hüseyin Aydın responded to the lawmaker on April 14, 2017, saying that his bank cannot reveal how much loan was provided to media outlets citing Article 73 of the Banking Law no. 5411, which he claimed prohibited sharing ‘bank secret’. On April 12, 2017, Halk Bank Deputy General Manager Mustafa Aydın not only cited the same article but also Article 159 which envisages jail terms for those who disclose confidential client information and documents. Halil Aydoğan, General Manager of Vakıf Bank said on April 11, 2017 that the requested information fall within the scope of client confidentiality and bank secrecy.
Erdoğan has been financing own media outlets by unlawfully directing credits and loans to these media companies that support him while diverting most public advertisements away from what is left of the critical and independent media in Turkey. Most pro-government media outlets that have low-circulation numbers depend on these handouts by the government to survive. The practice was also used as a carrot by Erdoğan to buy loyalties of journalists and their media outlets.
The last time the government revealed advertisement figures was in 2014 when then-Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said public ads given to 13 pro-government dailies for the first four months of 2014 amounted to TL13,3 million. Sabah newspaper which was controlled by Erdoğan’s family, received the lion share of TL1.3 million, while radical religious daily Akit newspaper got almost 1 million Turkish Lira.
Turkish government also used Press Bulletin Authority (BIK), which is responsible for allocating official ads such as court notices or statements by publicly-owned companies, to fund its own media while cutting off the ads for critical and independent media on various pretexts.
The leaked wiretaps of the December 17-25 corruption probes revealed how Erdoğan and his propagandist media abused state-banks to tap on to cash. For example, in one recording, then the CEO of pro-government outlet Star media, Mustafa Karaalioğlu, was reported as calling the general manager of Halkbank and asking him to provide two million TL (about $900,000) to cover the shortage in payroll payments for his staff at the paper.
Then the general manager Süleyman Aslan responded by saying that they were publicly traded companies and he could not allocate money without a proper purpose. Karaalioğlu assured him by saying that “Don’t worry, nothing will happen, we will cover it as an advertisement payment and send you the invoice.”
Aslan was incriminated in a major corruption probe that extended to members of Erdoğan family and involved an Iranian sanction-buster Reza Zarrab. The case was hushed up in Turkey after Erdoğan’s intervention and Zarrab was freed from the jail and the prosecution was dropped. But the US federal officials pursue similar charges against Zarrab who was later arrested in the US pending trial.
May 19, 2017