Turkey opposition demands probe on central bank corruption claims

Turkey opposition demands probe on central bank corruption claims
A picture shows the logo of Turkey's Central Bank (TCMB) at the entrance of the bank's headquarters in Ankara, Turkey. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2021

Turkey opposition demands probe on central bank corruption claims

Turkey opposition demands probe on central bank corruption claims
  • CHP calls for audit, investigation into high-profile dismissal of Naci Agbal
  • Agbal was dismissed two days after he proposed a larger-than-expected increase in interest rates

ANKARA: Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has called for a parliamentary investigation into the ousting of the central bank governor amid rumors of profiteering and corruption.
The CHP demanded the government reveal the amount of public money lost and the names of officials said to have benefited from foreign currency fluctuations between the announcement of interest rate hikes on March 18 and the dismissal of Naci Agbal two days later.
The request was initiated by 16 MPs from the party.
In the past two years, Turkey has replaced its central bank governor three times, triggering market instability and scaring off foreign investment.
Agbal, who was appointed in November last year and hailed as a “competent” figure, was dismissed two days after he proposed a larger-than-expected increase in interest rates.
“The central bank and all other banks have the list that contains the name of those who profited from the currency fluctuation. It is an organized move and 83 million Turkish citizens should know who benefited from that abrupt dismissal. Those who leaked this sensitive information should be revealed immediately,” CHP Istanbul MP Gursel Tekin told Arab News.
Tekin also called for Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board to audit transactions made during the period.
Credit rating agency Moody’s said on March 25 that Agbal’s dismissal “hurt investor confidence in Turkey.”
Last week, Ali Babacan, leader of the opposition DEVA party and former economy chair in the government, drew attention to the allegations surrounding Agbal’s dismissal.
Babacan said that Agbal might have been dismissed at midnight because he was planning to investigate the sale of $130 billion in foreign exchange reserves during former finance minister Berat Albayrak’s tenure.
“We do not know if this is true, but I would not be surprised if it was the case,” he said.
The Turkish central bank’s foreign currency reserves have fallen 75 percent over the last year and now stand at a mere $11 billion.
Agbal’s dismissal resulted in an 11-percent depreciation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar after the appointment of Sahap Kavcioglu as new governor.
Kavcioglu is a well-known advocate of lower interest rates, and will likely shape a new approach that works in the government’s favor.
However, economists warn that if the bank reduces interest rates, foreign exchange rates will spike further and a balance of payment crisis will emerge.
The opposition IYI Party announced on March 22 that it was planning to submit a legislative proposal to Turkey’s Parliament to establish a five-year minimum term for the position of central bank governor.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s stock exchange Borsa Istanbul named Korkmaz Enes Ergun, previously deputy general manager with 24 years’ experience in the sector, as new managing director.
Ergun replaces Hakan Atilla, a controversial figure who was sentenced to 32 months in prison in the US for helping Iran evade sanctions in his role at Turkey’s state-run Halkbank.
Atilla resigned from his post on March 8.


Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Updated 6 sec ago

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Iran joined a rapidly expanding central Asian security body led by Russia and China on Friday, calling on the countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West.
The body, formed in the 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
In a sign of its growing influence, the body’s summit in Tajikistan was the first appearance abroad of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahimi Raisi, since taking office in August.
Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran, as a country along China’s “Belt and Road” route, to join important trade links across Eurasia. Iranian television described Iran’s membership as giving it access to huge markets across the continent.
In his speech to members, Raisi compared sanctions on Iran to terrorism, and said the organization should design a mechanism that helps Tehran avert them.
Russia and China, along with Western countries, are parties of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions. Negotiations this year to revive it have been stalled since Raisi’s election.
“Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations,” Raisi said. “Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
Updated 17 September 2021

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said is unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial collapse.
The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.
The Mikati government, which took office a week ago, has promised action to address the crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a start to reforms.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday there had been courtesy calls with members of the new government and the Fund stood ready to engage in the period ahead. Talks between the previous government and the IMF broke down last year.
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is one of the worst on record.
The currency has slumped more than 90 percent since 2019, more than three quarters of the population have been driven into poverty, the banking system is paralyzed and a hard currency crunch has led to shortages of vital imports, including fuel.
Lebanon has been suppressing fuel prices by providing dollars at subsidised exchange rates well below the pound’s price on the parallel market, with the stated aim of shielding people hit by the collapse.
Critics say the system has given rise to smuggling and hoarding, contributing to shortages that have crippled normal life and spawned a black market where gasoline has been sold at enormously inflated prices.
Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.
“This is the stage before last of lifting the subsidy,” said Georges Braks, a member of the Petrol Station Owners’ syndicate, who expects the subsidy to be removed by the end of September.
He said the new prices were based on an exchange rate around 12,000 pounds per dollar.
This compares with a rate of 8,000 pounds per dollar that the previous government agreed for fuel prices last month, but is still below the rate on the parallel market, where dollars were changing hands at 14,600 on Friday.
The central bank said last month it could no longer afford to provide dollars for fuel at heavily subsidised rates.
The move means importers will still be sourcing dollars from the central bank rather than the market and so a subsidy still applies, said Mike Azar, a senior Beirut-based financial adviser.
The pound has strengthened from around 19,000 per dollar since Mikati took office, ending a year of political conflict over cabinet seats that left Lebanon rudderless.
The IMF has recommended Lebanon unify the multiple exchange rates along with other steps including the central bank audit.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.
A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the finance ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF last year broke down largely due to a dispute over the scale of losses in the financial system. A plan drawn up by the previous government said these amounted to some $90 billion, a figure endorsed by the IMF but rejected by Lebanese banks and the political elite.


Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials
Updated 17 September 2021

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

LONDON: Police in Yemen's province of Marib arrested a group of Houthi militia planning to bomb public places with the aim to assassinate government military officials, state news agency Saba reported on Thursday.
The commander of Special Forces in Marib Brig. Gen. Saleem Al-Sayyaghi told Saba that a cache of explosives and maps of bomb sites were seized in possession of the Houthi members.
Initial investigations, he said, revealed that those arrested “steered by the Iran-backed Houthi militia” and were tasked with bombing civilian crowds and military leaders.

Sayyaghi claimed that the plot comes as the militia failed to take Marib in the battlefield despite sending fighters towards the army positions over the past months.  


Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
Updated 17 September 2021

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
  • The head of Iran’s prison system admitted that videos purportedly obtained by a self-described hacker group that show abuses at the Islamic Republic’s notorious Evin prison are real

NICOSIA: Amnesty International has condemned the “climate of impunity” that prevails in Iran over deaths in custody despite reports of more than 70 such cases over the past decade.
“Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture or other ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials,” said the London-based rights group.
The latest documented case involved a 31-year-old whose death was reported to his family by intelligence ministry officials in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province on September 8, Amnesty said in a statement.
“Reports of the death of Yaser Mangouri in suspicious circumstances further exposes how the prevailing climate of impunity further emboldens security forces to violate prisoners’ right to life without any fear of consequence or accountability,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
The group’s report follows an admission by Iran’s prisons chief last month that “unacceptable behavior” had taken place at a notorious Tehran prison after videos published abroad appeared to show violence against detainees.
The footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Evin prison.
Amnesty International said the leaked video footage “offered disturbing evidence of beatings, sexual harassment, and other ill-treatment of prisoners by prison officials.”
It said that in 46 of the 72 deaths in custody, informed sources said they had resulted from “physical torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of intelligence and security agents or prison officials.”
Another 15 deaths were caused by the use of firearms or tear gas by prison guards to suppress protests over Covid-19 safety fears, said Amnesty.
For the remaining 11 cases, the deaths occurred in suspicious circumstances, but no further details about potential causes were available, it added.
“Iranian authorities typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, drug overdose or illness in a rushed manner and without conducting any independent and transparent investigations,” the watchdog said.
In July, Amnesty and nine other rights groups urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mechanism to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes committed in the Islamic republic.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the United Nations or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.


Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
Updated 17 September 2021

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
  • The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease
  • The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years

DUBAI: Over 50 percent of residents in the UAE have been affected by heart disease, according to a study of more than 1,000 people.

The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease, Al-Arabiya news channel reported.

The report further said heart disease was the main cause of death in the country, with symptoms showing a decade earlier than their counterparts in other developed countries.

“These results make clear the tragic impact that heart disease has on our community. Each and every heart disease diagnosis ripples out from the patient to their family and friends, naturally causing a great deal of anguish for all concerned,” Dr Ronney Shantouf, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said.

The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years, while 30 percent said they had never done so.

“It is very concerning that despite the tremendous strain heart disease places on our community and the high level of awareness we see, people are still reluctant to visit the doctor and take steps to prevent heart disease,” Shantouf said.

The study has further shown that 15 percent of respondents did not have any risk factors of heart disease.

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