Turkey deserves clean politics, says prominent businessman Mustafa Koç
CANSU ÇAMLIBEL ISTANBUL / Hürriyet
Mustafa Koç sits in front of a painting of himself and his late grandfather, and Koç Holding CEO, Vehbi Koç. Mustafa Koç says the powerful group has always remained impartial. Hürriyet Photo, Sebati Karakurt
Mustafa Koç, Chair of the Executive Committee of Koç Holding, has told daily Hürriyet that Turkey and its people deserve the highest standards in democracy and “clean politics, in an integrated and peaceful society.”
Speaking for the first time since the Gezi protests, after which the Koç group became a target of the government especially for opening Divan Hotel to anti-government protesters escaping police violence, Koç said he had no reason to be against the government, while also urging reforms to avoid future problems in Turkish economy.
How do you evaluate the general course of the Turkish economy?
The Turkish economy has demonstrated a major acceleration in the past 11 years under the single-party administration. In the Ak Party (Justice and Development Party) era, the economic reforms launched in 2001 by Kemal Derviş were almost literally followed. This indeed gave its fruit in the medium and long term. Each segment of Turkey benefited from this environment; thus private sector also soared. Even though our economy is still fragile, energy-dependent and very sensitive to the current accounts deficit, again, as long as the political environment is suitable, for foreigners, Turkey is a country that may be more favorable over Brazil, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Mexico. A serious privatization of almost $50 billion that has not been done for 40 years has been done. This has many pluses to it. I also want to emphasize the government incentives granted to develop the economy.
However, in the medium and long term, our economy needs to go through an evolution. As long as energy-dependency continues, we need to produce more added value products so we can cope with the current account deficit.
How would you sum up the Koç group in 2014?
Today, the Koç Group more or less constitutes 10 percent of the Turkish economy; pays almost 9.5 percent of total taxes. Among the top 10 of the income taxed individuals, there are five members of the Koç family.
There is a severe sensitivity in the markets after Dec. 17. You have said Turkey was clever in defeating 2008. Do you think the government is also pursuing similar clever policies this time?
For once, the election psychology has started and the environment is tenser than usual. Due to the incidents developing after Dec. 17, the markets are tense. If this tension is pulled down, the markets will immediately respond positively. We should immediately reinstall confidence and we can do that.
Look, the things that will carry our country forward are stability, confidence environment and domestic peace. We should defend, continuously and consistently, democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, universal values, individual rights and freedoms. I want to reiterate: In all those matters, whatever the level is in developed countries, we also should have it; not one notch below. Our country and our people deserve clean politics, in an integrated and peaceful society.
Recently, some conversations allegedly taking place between the prime minister and his son have been leaked. What is your general opinion on these?
Before anything else, they have to be proved. But, perception is also important. When I look at the Western press – and they truly are objective – there is a very negative perception formed about Turkey. These corruption claims have to be proven. If they are true though, then whoever is behind them has to bear the consequences.
What are your expectations from the government in foreign policy?
Turkey, without reserve, is part of the West. Regardless of how insincere the European Union gets, we should continue the negotiations no matter what. Of course we should always maintain good relations with the Middle East and Russia, but our direction should always be toward the West. Turkey should be a European country in harmony with European values; this journey itself may even be more valuable than the destination.
What kind of a relationship do you have personally with Fethullah Gülen? Have you seen him?
I am the head of the executive committee of a group that constitutes almost 10 percent of the Turkish economy. Whichever lane they may be, I can and will see all important and influential people in our country. This is nobody’s business. In this context, I have seen him.
When did you see him last?
I saw him in May in the U.S. when we went there.
Well, the fact that you have met him; is this seeking for a new design - against the legitimate government in Turkey - that has obtained the support of foreign powers?
These are all products of imagination. We have never been in a position where we design politics. We have always been impartial. I am in relationship with prominent non-governmental organizations such as TÜSİAD, MÜSİAD and TUSKON. We do business in Africa. We made a serious purchase in South Africa in 2011. TUSKON has activities in Africa - well known to everybody. We went to Africa with them once, hell rose; whereas, nothing can be more normal than that in terms of business development.
Do you see yourself as a side in the government-community conflict?
Can you say you, as the Koç Group, keep equal distance to both of them?
Of course. What kind of a problem can we have with the community or with the government? Look, from the past to today, we have never been involved in daily political clashes and have always remained impartial. But we have dealt with all of our country’s issues and have been participatory. And we will continue to be.
When have you seen the prime minister last?
It has been a year.
The debate was always whether politicians got the messages that came out of the Gezi protests. What has the business world taken from those messages; what have you seen in there?
I regard it as perfectly healthy, because it was an entirely sociological movement based on no ideology. This could have been managed much better, but trying to suppress it with police force took it to other places. We, as the Koç Group, found ourselves again inside conspiracy theories. The main reason for this was the Divan Hotel. If you view the location of the hotel, the moment you step out of Gezi Park, you cross the street and this is the only place to take shelter. Since 1950, in that area any person - and this can be a foreigner, a young person, a woman - robbed or harassed can take shelter in Divan Hotel. There is nothing more normal than people running away from police to land at the entrance of the Divan Hotel. We opened our doors for humanitarian reasons. Then, there were groundless claims, as if members of the Koç family were managing the incidents from the sixth floor. I can assure you none of the members of the Koç family were at the hotel and there were no instructions given to the hotel management.
Didn’t you feel the need to take a look at what was happening there, with your own eyes?
No, I didn’t go. Information was flowing regularly. Just as Mr. Muharrem Yılmaz said, if somebody injured knocks on your door at home, would you not take him in? As a country, which has opened its doors to 500,000 Syrians… If that is happening, then what is wrong with this? We were exposed to such attributions as if we were hiding terrorists there and we were extremely sorry for that. We opted not to respond even though we had been attacked a lot during and after Gezi. Fighting with our state does not suit us. Well, of course, we have brought our reputation to the level of today’s in 90 years and we will not allow anybody to trample it. For this reason, we will defend our legal rights to the end against all false stories.