Jun 14 2019

Turkey charges 38 people, including Bloomberg reporters, over lira crisis

Turkish prosecutors charged 38 people, including economists and two Bloomberg journalists, with seeking to cause chaos in financial markets last summer.

The charges were levied against people including Bloomberg’s Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalınkılıç, for publishing an article and disseminating it during a currency crisis last year, local media reported.

The people also included economist Mustafa Sönmez, writer and broadcaster Merdan Yanardağ and journalist Sedef Kabaş Yirmibeşoğlu. Several of the suspects have faced prosecution and jail in other cases.

The Turkish lira sank to a record low of 7.2 per dollar in August as Turks and foreigners sold the currency during a political crisis with the United States and due to fears about an overheating economy. The lira lost 28 percent of its value against the dollar last year and has fallen a further 10 percent since Dec. 31.

Prosecutors said the article, which said some bank branches were running low on foreign currency and that banks were asked by the industry regulator to study the impact of financial shocks, was an attempt to destabilise the institutions and the financial system as a whole. Sharing the information was also a felony, they said.

The article, entitled “Turkish Bank Crisis Prompts Emergency Meeting on Saturday”, said the regulator had scheduled a weekend conference call with banks to discuss liquidity issues. Bloomberg reported a denial by the regulator that meetings were planned.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused foreign enemies and local opposition of fomenting the currency crisis in an attempt to unseat his government.

The prosecution is the latest against journalists and opponents of Erdoğan. Many cases have resulted in the imprisonment of defendants, or long periods of pre-trial detention.

In the article, Bloomberg said one bank branch could not immediately meet a request by a customer to withdraw $5,000. Visits to branches of three large banks showed they were struggling to keep up with demand for foreign currency, it said.

Turkey’s record on freedom of speech has been criticised by the European Union, which has frozen the opening and closing of chapters of the country’s membership talks as a result. It can be a crime in Turkey to disseminate untrue news or rumours about individual banks.

The Turkish opposition said the latest prosecutions were an attempt to stifle dissent ahead of a rerun of elections for the mayor of Istanbul on June 23. An initial vote, narrowly won by the main opposition candidate on March 31, was overturned by the election board after Erdoğan’s governing party claimed that irregularities occurred.