Cablegate: Ex-Brsa Chair Akcakoca Comments On Banking Sector, Investigations

Published: Wed 24 Dec 2003 08:52 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 007918
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/23/2013
(u) Classified by Economic Counselor Scot Marciel. Reasons:
1.5 (b,d)
1. (C) Summary: Ex-BRSA Chairman Engin Akcakoca complained
to us recently that the police raid on his house, which
uncovered confidential documents he had kept from BRSA, was a
politically-motivated set-up. Numerous current and former
officials, he said, had called offering support and confiding
that they also keep such documents to protect themselves from
accusations and investigations. Akcakoca warned that the
banking sector remains vulnerable, and will have difficulty
remaining profitable in a low-interest rate environment. He
reported that Cukurova Group owner Mehmet Karamehmet was
negotiating with BRSA to reduce his Pamuk Bank-related debt
to the state from just over $3 billion to $2 billion, and was
also pressing to regain bank ownership rights. On a positive
note, Akcakoca expressed support for the proposed merger of
Pamuk Bank and Halk Bank, and said new BRSA Chair Tevfik
Bilgin appeared well qualified -- if perhaps a bit young --
to take over the job. End Summary.
2. (C) During a recent lunch in Istanbul, ex-BRSA Chairman
Engin Akcakoca offered us his thoughts on the investigation
into his activities and on the broader banking sector. He
began by saying that he had resigned because Deputy Prime
Minister Sener -- through an emissary -- had explicitly asked
for his resignation in the wake of the Imar Bank scandal. He
complained that authorities had raided his house only three
days after his resignation, while they had taken weeks to
conduct raids on the Uzan family members, who clearly had
engaged in massive fraud. Akcakoca said the raids were
prompted by an "anonymous tip" claiming that authorities
would find Imar Bank records at various addresses, including
at his house. They had not found any such documents, but had
instead uncovered a number of confidential BRSA documents.
3. (C) Akcakoca claimed the raids were a "set up," since
"everyone" keeps such records to protect themselves. He
noted that former President Demirel, at least one Supreme
Court Justice, and other current and senior officials had
called him to express support and had acknowledged that they
too keep such records. Even Deputy PM Sener, he added, had
publicly defended him for keeping official documents.
Akcakokca further complained that the prosecutor assigned to
the case was someone he had worked with on the Imar Bank
case; unfortunately, Akcakoca had publicly criticized the
prosecutor a few weeks earlier for failing to act more
assertively against the Uzans.
4. (C) Turning to the banking sector as a whole, Akcakokca
warned about continuing vulnerabilities, particularly in the
context of rapidly declining interest rates. He argued -- as
have others -- that, in the absence of significant corporate
lending, banks remain overly reliant for profits on returns
from their huge investments in government securities. They
will book significant capital gains from these holdings this
year, but will be unable to do so next year, given the sharp
drop in real interest rates. Noting that many banks already
barely meet required capital-adequacy ratios, he warned that
any slide into the red could bring serious problems for the
5. (C) Akcakoca noted that the current government now had a
majority of its people on the BRSA board and also would
appoint supporters to the newly independent SDIF board. As a
result, he said, the government will have unprecedented power
to "squeeze" bank owners if it so chooses. The GOT already
has indicated it will review all loan workouts done through
the Istanbul approach, and could -- per Akcakoca -- also
review and even cancel existing agreements between SDIF and
the owners of failed banks. He noted that Justice Minister
Cicek has made clear that he wants to go after at least some
of the owners.
6. (C) At the same time, Akcakoca complained, Cukurova Group
owner Mehmet Karamehmet -- former owner of Pamuk Bank and
Yapi Kredi Bank -- is negotiating with SDIF to reduce his
debt obligations. Under the arrangement worked out following
BRSA's mid-June 2002 intervention, Karamehmet committed to
repaying more than $3.1 billion over 15 years to SDIF to fill
the hole he created in Pamuk Bank's balance sheet. Now, he
is proposing paying $1.9 billion over two years, and also
asking to regain his right to own banks (Turkish law
prohibits owners of failed banks from owning other banks).
Akcakoca acknowledged that SDIF sometimes agreed to 30
percent reductions in debts owed by failed bank owners in
return for immediate payment, but pointed out that
Karamehmet's proposed deal involved a 42 percent discount
without full upfront payment. (Comment; IMF ResRep and
others say they also have heard about this proposed deal, but
we have not yet been able to verify the details with SDIF.
End Comment)
7. (C) On a more positive note, Akcakoca said he thought
Tevfik Bilgin, his successor, was qualified, if a bit young.
He also expressed support for the proposed Pamuk Bank - Halk
Bank merger, saying the two banks would complement each other
and that it would be very difficult for SDIF to sell Pamuk
Bank to a private buyer.
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