Ankara takes aim at Turkish tycoon

The Turkish government is taking aim against one of the most powerful family business empires in Turkey in what critics say is an attempt to cripple their rising political party.

    Cem Uzan is considered the Silvio
    Berlusconi of Turkey

    The Uzan family saw their bank seized on Friday, only days after the seizure of two lucrative power utilities and month-long bans on five television channels on charges of misconduct.

    Banking authorities shut and seized control of the Imar Bank owned by the Uzans, declaring it a threat to the stability of Turkey's frail banking system.

    The banking regulator said allowing Imar to continue would "pose a danger to the rights of account holders and to the confidence and stability of the financial system".

    Problems at the bank came to a head on Wednesday when Kemal Uzan and his board resigned. Deputy Premier Abdullatif Sener said Imar Bank's problems were a consequence of the state seizure of the Uzan family's two power utilities.

    Their daily Star newspaper declared the government’s move as “The Foulest Political Plot”

    against Youth Party head Cem Uzan.

    His enemies and allies alike describe him as the “Turkish Berlusconi” for his media empire and sudden rise to political prominence – a mirror to Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi.

    Government officials deny any political motivation. But the Uzans see the hand of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at work.

    "Tayyip Erdogan is using the power of the state and riding roughshod over the law to attack his biggest political rival, Cem Uzan," Star said above a picture of Uzan, who vows to drive the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of Turkey.

    Imar Bank, one of those that survived Turkey's financial and banking crisis, came under the control of the regulator's fund.

    The Uzan family empire stretches
    from media to power utilities

    The bank specialised in foreign currency savings accounts and was regularly promoted on Uzan channels as paying more interest on hard currency accounts than its rivals.

    As well as losing Imar Bank and the dams, power networks and cash-flow associated with the power utilities, the Uzans face a month-long suspension of broadcasts on their five television
    channels, ordered on Thursday by the media watchdog RTUK.

    RTUK said programmes aired on Uzan TV channels last month after seizure of the utilities aimed to "unfairly benefit shareholders, relatives or other individuals".

    Extensive empire

    The Uzan family empire extends from cement and mobile phones to the media and is run by patriarch Kemal Uzan and his sons Hakan and Cem.

    The state action has undoubtedly dealt a major blow to the group say analysts, but the family  seems likely to challenge the measures.

    The Uzans are no strangers to controversy abroad. They are engaged in a legal dispute with US telecom equipment maker Motorola and its Finnish rival Nokia over a $2 billion loan to their mobile phone operation Telsim.

    Cem Uzan’s Youth Party was established last year but narrowly failed to enter parliament in polls won by Erdogan's Justice and Democracy Party (AKP).

    But in key municipal elections set for early next year, the Youth Party is expected to gain many protest votes from the incumbent AKP.

    After two financial crises in Turkey, Uzan won popularity with his pledges to cut taxes, put an end to government corruption and order out the IMF.


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