Halkbank mum on alleged fraud links, citing secrecy

Halkbank mum on alleged fraud links, citing secrecy

Neşe Karanfil ANKARA / Hürriyet
Halkbank mum on alleged fraud links, citing secrecy

Former Halkbank CEO Süleyman Aslan was detained as part of Dec 17 graft investigation, over alleged links with a businessman accuased of mediating illegal transfers of gold to Iran. DAILY NEWS photo

Turkish lender Halkbank, which has been under scrutiny over its gold trade with Iran, has refused to answer most of a parliamentary commission’s questions regarding graft accusations as part of the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigation, citing reasons of secrecy.

When the State Economic Enterprises Sub-Commission asked if the companies and businessman, including Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab, mentioned within the Dec. 17 probe had received loans from the bank, Halkbank said the question could not be answered, referring to a clause of the banking law.

“It can’t be answered because it [the information] enters into the scope of bank and customer secrecy,” Halkbank said.

After a meeting held between commission member deputies and the Halkbank management on Jan. 29, the lender sent a written response to the questions asked during the meeting.

Former Halkbank chief executive Süleyman Aslan is among the suspects of the corruption probe, along with Zarrab and the sons of former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and former Interior Minister Muammer Güler. Accused of illegal transfers of gold to Iran in exchange for money via Halkbank in partnership with a ring formed by Zarrab, Aslan was replaced as head of the bank while still in custody by Ali Fuat Taşkesenlioğlu.

Aslan became a notorious figure after $4.5 million was found in shoeboxes during graft raids at his home, money that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed was “charity money.”

The transfer of gold and money to Iran via Halkbank had made headlines as part of the probe, with charges including helping disguise illegal gold sales.

Graft allegations denied

The lender released a statement yesterday to respond to the claims of media outlets and asserted that “the bank has been acting in compliance with national and international regulations in all of its foreign trade transactions.”

The state lender has been handling oil payments for imported oil from Iran to Turkey despite sanctions imposed on the former, drawing Western criticism although the bank has repeatedly said its dealings with Iran were entirely lawful.

Recalling some reports accusing the bank of “laundering Iranian assets that are accepted as black money and helping fictitious exports, violation of regulations, mediating fictitious gold and sugar exports and money laundering through foreign exchange and gold smuggling,” Halkbank stressed all transactions that were the subject of these allegations had been audited by several bodies.

Reviews of internal auditors, as well as inspectors from the banking watchdog, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK), and auditors of independent audit companies, have confirmed the bank acted lawfully, the statement read.

The Halkbank statement also responded to the claims that “the bank has been examined by the United States and United Nations and received a warning.”

“Our bank sensitively obeys internal and external regulations as a company that is conducting business in global markets, has been in contact with the bodies that put these rules into practice with the aim of understanding them,” the bank stated. “These contacts were neither inspections nor auditing; rather they were exchanges of opinions. Contrary to the claims, many institution authorities that our bank has been in touch with have sent their thanks to us for our contributions to legitimate trade between two countries.”