Money laundering probe: Hundreds arrested in Turkey

So far, about 216 suspects have been detained in operations across 40 cities. (AP)
Updated 03 October 2018

Money laundering probe: Hundreds arrested in Turkey

  • Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of some 417 suspects
  • The majority of the funds’ recipients were Iranian citizens residing in the US

ANKARA:Turkey has initiated raids across several cities in an investigation into one of the biggest money laundering attempts in the country’s history which involves Iranians. 

On Tuesday, Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of some 417 suspects who allegedly transferred about 2.5 billion Turkish liras’ ($419 million) worth of foreign currency to foreign bank accounts. 

The majority of the funds’ recipients were Iranian citizens residing in the US, according to a statement from Istanbul’s chief prosecutor. 

Tehran has not yet given any reaction on the financial probe. 

Facing a serious currency crisis, with lira falling about 40 percent against the dollar in 2018, Turkey is nowadays attaching great importance to the issue of foreign money transfers. 

Those who transferred the money starting on Jan. 1, 2017, with sums of 5,000 liras and more, are accused of targeting the economic and financial security of Turkey and financing terrorism. Another charge made is receiving commission for sending the money to 28,088 foreign accounts.

So far, about 216 suspects have been detained in operations across 40 cities. 

In a speech made in April, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned against sending money abroad for purposes other than investment and developing business, trade and investments. 

A US court recently sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker at the state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison after he was convicted of involvement in a scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

“This operation is not aimed at foreign exchange transfers of residents in Turkey to accounts abroad,” Turkish presidential adviser Cemil Ertem tweeted after the operation. “It is against terror financing related to the foreign exchange being transferred for terror group members who are residing abroad,” 

According to Gulriz Sen, an Iranian expert from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara, the latest incident in Turkey seems related to recent economic developments inside Iran, which also started a crackdown by sentencing three men to death and imprisoning more than 30 others for financial crimes.

“Both Turkey and Iran have seen their currencies plummeting in the past few months,” Sen told Arab News. “In Iran’s case, President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the uncertainties regarding the future of Western investments in Iran, as well as Iran’s ability to export its oil without market disruption, played a major role.

“Furthermore, Iranian authorities arrested the former deputy head of Iran’s Central Bank responsible for foreign exchange affairs and questioned former Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif, who was put under US sanctions in July and later dismissed by President Rouhani at the height of the currency crisis.” 

Sen believes that Turkey’s move may be in coordination with Iran. “On the latest occasion, money transfers ending up in Iranian accounts based in the US bring to mind the perennial problem of financial transactions between Iran and the US due to US sanctions. Turkey may have served as a medium to circumvent these difficulties,” she underlined.

Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

Updated 15 November 2018

Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

BEIRUT: Bank deposits in Lebanon have risen by 4 percent on the year, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said on Thursday, and he maintained his economic growth outlook for 2018 at 2 percent.

In July Salameh had said he expected bank deposits to grow by more than 5 percent in 2018.

In October the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) halved their growth outlook to one percent for Lebanon, where public debt is about 150 percent of gross domestic product.

“Lebanese banks have succeeded in maintaining foreign exchange inflows into their sector supported by (the central bank),” Salmeh said in a televised speech at a Beirut economic conference.

With growth low and traditional sources of foreign exchange — tourism, real estate and foreign investment — undermined by years of regional tension, Lebanon increasingly relies on dollars expatriate Lebanese deposit in local banks.

The banks buy government debt, which finances the country’s eye-watering public debt and twin deficits.

The central bank also brings in dollars through complex financial operations with local banks to boost foreign currency reserves needed to defend the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar.

However, deposits have been growing at a slower rate since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, and deposit growth rates are closely watched.