by Ercan Ersoy
The Turkish government transferred its holdings in the country’s biggest bank by assets and a state-owned phone company to a new sovereign-wealth fund created to finance large infrastructure projects.
The treasury’s stake in TC Ziraat Bankasi AS, oil and gas producer Turkiye Petrolleri AO, and a nearly 7 percent holding in phone operator Turk Telekomunikasyon AS are among assets that the fund will own, according to a decree in the Official Gazette on Sunday. The government will also move its 51.1 percent stake in Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS and 49.1 percent in Turkish Airlines after regulatory approvals, according to a regulatory filing on Monday.
“The existing management of these companies, their operational policies and business plans will continue in accordance with their investment and growth strategies,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. His office will manage the wealth fund under a strategic investment plan to be approved by the cabinet, he said.
The fund, approved by parliament in August, will use proceeds from the sale of assets to finance large infrastructure projects such as airports, seaports, roads and railroads, with Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci saying the fund could eventually control businesses worth $200 billion. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to boost economic growth after a series of terrorist attacks damaged consumer confidence and tourism, while Fitch Ratings last month became the last of the major credit ratings to cut the country’s debt to junk status.
“The move is likely to increase political control over the companies,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president at Teneo Intelligence. “The government is currently struggling to finance a series of high-profile infrastructure projects; Erdogan hopes these will boost his domestic prestige and enable him to consolidate his grip on power through the introduction of an executive presidential system with almost no checks or balances.”
Appointments to the board include Yigit Bulut, a senior presidential adviser; Himmet Karadag, Borsa Istanbul Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; and Kerem Alkin and Oral Erdogan, who are both academics, according to the country’s trade registry.
“Turkey’s most valuable state assets are being given to a specially authorized and unsupervised company,” said Cetin Osman Budak, a lawmaker and deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party. “This is not a step for the benefit of the public.”
The Treasury’s 73.6 percent stake in Borsa Istanbul AS, the owner of the country’s only stock exchange, holdings in miner ETI Maden Isletmeleri Genel Mudurlugu, tea producer Cay Isletmeleri Genel Mudurlugu, Postal Services Co. and cable TV and satellite operator Turksat Uydu Haberlesme ve Kablo tv Isletme AS have also been transferred to the fund.
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A facility of 3 billion liras ($810 million) held by Turkey’s Defense Industry Support Fund will also be given to the wealth fund for a period of three months, while several plots of lands in tourism regions in Antalya, Aydin and Izmir will be shifted to the fund. The government also moved its license in the national lottery and horse racing operations for the next 49 years to the fund last month.
The government hired international banks in 2013 to sell 6.7 percent of its stake in Turk Telekom from its total ownership of 31.7 percent through a secondary public offering, but the plan didn’t go through. The phone operator is 55 percent owned by Dubai-based Oger Telecom Ltd.