Turkey has seized assets worth at least $11bn from nearly 1,000 businesses as part of a government crackdown in the year since a failed coup.
The government has seized or appointed an administrator to 965 companies that employ 46,357 people, for allegedly having links to Fethullah Gulen, an exiled imam who the government blames for the July 2016 putsch attempt, deputy prime minister Nurettin Canikli said.
The seizures began before the coup attempt, but picked up pace after mutinous soldiers attempted to oust Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president imposed a state of emergency and launched a sweeping crackdown in which more than 140,000 people, including soldiers, teachers and academics, have been detained, dismissed or suspended for alleged links to Mr Gulen.
The purge and the authorities’ decision to target businesses rattled investors and helped trigger a slowdown in what had been one of the best performing emerging market economies.
The companies’ assets are now held within the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund, and are scheduled to be auctioned off to the highest bidders, the government has previously said.
Ankara argues the seizures are evidence of the extent of the Gulenists’ infiltration of the economy and state.
The wealth of many of the companies targeted was created when Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup, were once allies. Both share an Islamist background and when the president’s Justice and Development party (AKP) first took power in 2003, it worked with Gulenists to counter the influence of a secular elite that controlled the bureaucracy and much of the nation’s corporate wealth.
The alliance helped create large business conglomerates, including Boydak Holding, gold miners, energy producers and a lender, Bank Asya, which investigators have focused on as they seek to identify people and firms that they allege acted on Mr Gulen’s behalf.
All the companies are now run by government appointed trustees, while their owners are either imprisoned or abroad.
Few, if any, executives have been successfully convicted, leading to criticism from Turkey’s western allies that Mr Erdogan has become increasingly autocratic. The state of emergency means it is impossible for the business owners — one of whom described the seizures as a forced transfer of wealth — to challenge Mr Erdogan’s decrees in court.
The combined revenues of the seized companies was around $6bn before the seizure — it’s unclear what they have now shrunk to.
Amnesty International separately condemned the detention of its Turkish director, Idil Eser, and seven other human rights activists who are being investigated for alleged membership of an armed terrorist group.
“The absurdity of these accusations against Idil Eser and the nine others cannot disguise the very grave nature of this attack on some of the most prominent civil society organizations in Turkey,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general said.
“Their spurious detention while attending a routine workshop was bad enough: that they are now being investigated for membership of an armed terrorist organisation beggars belief.