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GİLA BENMAYOR > Why did the Russian pay 3 billion euros to DenizBank?

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Istanbul is experiencing one of those summers with an abundance of music.

I know several people in my inner circle who now dare to struggle with the horrendous city traffic not to miss the 19th Jazz Festival and the International Opera Festival, the third of which is being organized this year.

The sponsors of both festivals are banks.

Garanti Bank is supporting the jazz, while DenizBank is supporing the opera.

Hakan Ateş, the general manager of DenizBank, which has undertaken the sponsorship of Istanbul’s first opera festival, is a true music lover.

He took the stage when he was 11 years old for Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) children programs.
Most recently, on the night when the CEOs took the stage, he performed famous American singer John Denver’s songs.

During the dinner organized by the bank to promote the opera festival program, I had an opportunity to talk to Hakan Ateş both on his love of music and also the recent sale of DenizBank of Dexia Bank, a French-Belgium partnership, to Russia’s Sberbank.

If I need to remind you, last month 99.85 percent of DenizBank’s shares were sold to Russia’s biggest bank Sberbank for a price of 3 billion euros. The sale in question is the biggest purchase operation of the bank in Russia which has a history dating back 171 years.

Ateş, who has played a significant role in this operation, has had a relationship with the Russians dating way back.

“It is as if I have a fate connected to Russia. I had my honeymoon with my first wife in Russia. While I was with the Doğuş Group, I opened the Garanti Moscow Bank in 1996 in Russia. In 2002, again in Russia, I set up DenizBank. Now, we have brought the first Russian bank to Turkey,” he explained.

According to Ateş, Sberbank has 20,000 branches all over Russia and 242,000 employees. If we say that half of the 143 million population of Russia has an account in Sberbank, it would not be an exaggeration.

The CEO of Sberbank, German Gref, is a name close to President Vladimir Putin. Their friendship goes back to Putin’s St. Petersburg days. He served as Russia’s Economic Development and Trade Minister between 2000 and 2007.

Hakan Ateş said that while Gref was buying DenizBank, it was the increasingly developing trade relations between Turkey and Russia that was influential in the decision.

“Sberbank alone represents almost one third of the Russian finance market. Buying DenizBank has opened the way for it both in this region and also to become a global financial actor,” he added.
There is also one more factor that Gref has taken into account when buying DenizBank: The 4 million Russian tourists who come to Turkey every year.

It proves Gref right that the tourists in question flock to the southern regions where DenizBank is strongest.

According to Hakan Ateş, one other reason why DenizBank was attractive to the Russian bank was its successful management model rather than its balance sheet.

“We are a young bank of 15 years. In a short time, we became Turkey’s fifth private bank. The Russian are giving 3 billion euros having evaluated the stage we have reached today,” said Ateş.

According to him, Gref does not plan to make any changes to DenizBank’s management.

Whether its name will be changed or not is undecided at the moment.

July/11/2012

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