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Mobster videos renew scrutiny on Turkey’s wealth amnesty law | Business and Economy News

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Istanbul, Turkey – YouTube videos of convicted Turkish mob boss Sedat Peker accusing government officials of corruption and more have captivated millions in recent weeks and are renewing scrutiny on a Turkish law critics say provides a convenient loophole for money laundering and criminal activity to thrive.

A “wealth amnesty” law that took effect in November allows individuals and companies to repatriate previously undisclosed cash, gold, foreign currency, securities, and other assets held abroad, or declare assets held in Turkey, without incurring a tax penalty.

The amnesty, championed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), ostensibly aims to boost Turkey’s pandemic-hit economy.

Former economy minister and serving AK Party MP Mustafa Elitas told Al Jazeera the government did not forecast in advance how much wealth would come to light as a result of the amnesty, which is due to expire on at the end of this month. But, he said, the law is still beneficial.

“It is important because it brings in additional hidden sources [of wealth] into our economy,” he said, calling on Turks to take advantage of the amnesty.

In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Turkish citizens to seize the opportunity to bring “our national wealth” out of the shadows and invest it to help the economy.

Peker captivated millions with videos accusing government officials of corruption and other crimes [File: YouTube]

But financial crimes experts and members of Turkey’s opposition say the law is riddled with loopholes criminals can use to wash clean ill-gotten gains.

Under the amnesty, assets can be repatriated from abroad with no questions asked. It also allows third parties, including legal representatives, shareholders of companies, or proxy representatives, to declare assets.

That means assets held abroad in tax havens through shell companies can find their way into Turkey with little to no scrutiny as to how they were acquired or by whom. Assets can even be carried into the country in a suitcase and declared with no further inquiries about their origins.

Critics say this creates an opening for foreign criminals to use Turks to launder so-called “black” money.

“The wealth amnesty can create a risk of introducing black money or income obtained through unregistered ways into the system if it is done in a way that does not take adequate precautions, question the source of the money or ignores thereof,” Transparency International Turkey Chair Oya Ozarslan told Al Jazeera.

“Considering that money laundering requires committing other crimes such as drugs, terrorism, etc and waiting for an opportunity to enter the system to be cleared, this risk is important,” she added.

But supporters of the law say such criticisms are unfounded.

“This is completely false,” former Deputy Prime Minister Cevdet Yilmaz told Al Jazeera. “All of these issues were taken into account when drafting this regulation. We concentrated on issues such as terrorism financing and illicit money. We ruled out such scenarios when drafting the regulation. As a result, they have no right to make these claims.”

Last fall, as the law was being drafted, Deputy Finance Minister Osman Dincbas, who was removed from his post in January, pushed back on those opposed to the amnesty, noting that there were already systems in place to safeguard against money laundering, including MASAK – the country’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board – and global watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

How much money, gold, jewellery, and other valuables were brought into the country?

Erdogan Toprak, MP with the Republican People’s Party

Loosening regulations to attract assets

The wealth amnesty, which took effect in November, is the latest iteration of similar laws passed in 2008, 2013, 2016 and 2018. But previous versions imposed a small tax penalty on disclosed assets while the current law imposes zero levies.

Critics say AK Party lawmakers have repeatedly loosened the regulations not only to attract assets hidden abroad but to allow wealthy local supporters to repatriate undeclared wealth and disclose assets held inside the country without facing much scrutiny.

“Today, if someone comes to the border and claims to have brought 30 million euros, all they have to do is fill out a form for the public prosecutor and the Financial Crimes Investigation Board,” said Professor Nedim Turkmen, an expert on international financial transactions and Turkish tax law at Galatasaray University.

Turkmen noted that under the current law, a person can deposit money in a Turkish bank one day and withdraw it the next to cleanse it of any criminal affiliations.

“What bothers me most is that this regulation is not only aimed at bringing in assets from abroad but also allows unregistered assets already in Turkey which might be obtained illegally, especially via graft, tender rigging, etc by bureaucrats and government officials to be whitewashed,” he said.

During the first amnesty in 2008, more than 47 billion lira ($5.4bn at current exchange rates) of assets were registered, generating in excess of 1.5 billion lira ($173m) in tax revenue. In a further blow to transparency, the amount of wealth declared under the current amnesty is not made public.

“We don’t know how much wealth was legalised as a result of the recent amnesties and regulations,” said Erdogan Toprak, an opposition MP with the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“How much money, gold, jewellery, and other valuables were brought into the country? The total value of the assets is no longer available to the public,” he told Al Jazeera.

A fragile economy

Erdogan’s government does face a pressing need for foreign exchange and other hard assets.

Like the rest of the world, Turkey’s economy was battered by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. But it entered the pandemic on relatively fragile footing, thanks to debt-fuelled growth policies that have made Turkey heavily dependent on external financing and vulnerable whenever investor sentiment turns against its currency, the lira.

The lira lost nearly 20 percent of its value since Erdogan sacked a market-friendly central bank governor in March [File: Nicole Tung/Bloomberg]

Though Turkey was one of the few countries to actually register positive growth last year, the International Monetary Fund recently noted, “the same policies that buoyed growth also exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities”.

Turkey’s foreign exchange reserves have been gutted, and annual inflation is running north of 16.5 percent.  The lira has lost nearly 20 percent of its value since March when Erdogan shocked investors by sacking a market-friendly central bank governor – the third chief he’d shown the door in two years.

Questions over the rule of law and Erdogan’s spats with NATO allies, most notably the United States, have also heaped pressure on the lira.

Corruption and gangsters

While the wealth amnesty is framed by its supporters as a way to prop up Turkey’s economy, some critics contend that it exacerbates the country’s financial woes by facilitating corruption by those with close ties to the government.

“These are actually assets stolen from the country and its people by government-allied companies and individuals who transferred their billion dollars’ wealth into tax havens,” Garo Paylan, an MP from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told Al Jazeera.

“Corruption, nepotism, graft, and tender rigging were used to obtain them. The AK Party is attempting to whitewash those illicit assets because it knows it will be voted out soon,” he said.

The latest amnesty also comes amid growing concern that foreign gangsters are increasingly basing themselves in Turkey.

Headlines of murders and armed clashes between foreign mafia groups, particularly in Istanbul, are routinely splashed across newspapers in the country.

But the problem is not necessarily restricted to foreign criminal elements. According to former Istanbul Police Chief Adil Serdar Sacan, international mobsters are gaining a foothold in Turkey with the help of local gangsters.

“A foreign mafia member would never come to Turkey without the knowledge, guarantee, and support of his local partners,” he told Al Jazeera.

“What we see today tells us that certain circles within the existing government work together with the mafia. Even mafia leaders openly say that,” he added.

Those accused of crimes by Peker denied any wrongdoing. But the videos further tarnished Turkey’s already battered image [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Sedat Peker, the Turkish former gangland boss, began posting videos in May, making uncorroborated charges of corruption and other criminal acts against government officials, including Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.

All those accused by Peker have denied any wrongdoing. But the videos have further tarnished Turkey’s already battered image when it comes to illicit activity.

Turkey has long seen heroin trafficked across its borders from Afghanistan to Europe, as well as people and arms. Billions of dollars from these illegal enterprises often end up in offshore accounts and critics suspect some of it is finding its way to Turkey via the country’s wealth amnesties.

Turkey has faced pressure from FATF to combat the washing of black money more effectively. FATF did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for an interview.

But some would like to see global sheriffs bring more pressure to bear on Ankara.

“Independent international institutions should be more vocal about these issues,” a senior official in Turkey’s finance ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

“I really stopped counting the number of these amnesties. Enough is enough,” he added.

Former economy minister Ufuk Soylemez said the amnesty is also viewed poorly by everyday, law-abiding Turks.

“People who make an honest living and pay their taxes feel offended by these amnesties,” he told Al Jazeera.

And some say the law’s benefits pale in comparison to the damage it is inflicting on Turkey’s long-term economic health.

“Because of a lack of transparency, a democratic deficit, and other negative factors, Turkey is no longer a country in which to invest,” said Toprak. “This further harms the already damaged image of our country and scares off foreign investors.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Covid-19: Gov’t to Take Final Decision Remitting Relief Cash On Wednesday

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Government is on Wednesday expected to come out with modalities on how it will transmit cash to vulnerable Ugandans who have been greatly affect by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister of Information Dr. Chris Baryomunsi told reporters today, “The Committee has been working out details. At eleven which is one hour ago, the National Task Force should have started meeting and receiving reports and one of the reports it will receive is a report from this sub-committee (Finance),” Baryomunsi revealed.

“And the discussions must be going on; actually from here I will just match to that meeting. So those details on how it will be worked out have been discussed to the committee and now the committee is reporting to the main task force so that the final decision is taken and then we shall communicate to Ugandans on how much, how we shall do it and when does it start,” he added.

Unlike the March – June 2020 lock down where food rations were disbursed, Baryomunsi explained that their sudden change of mind was informed by encumbrances they faced last year.

Joyce Sebugwawo reacting during the interaction on Wednesday

“The whole of it, we found it a little bit complex and problematic. And if we took that direction for 42 days it may not easily succeed to reach out to these vulnerable people when we go out to give physical food. The procurement processes, checking the quality of food and all those bottlenecks,” he pointed out.

While addressing members of the fourth estate on Monday, Mpuuga who also doubles as Nyendo-Mukungwe Member of Parliament (MP) pointed an accusatory finger at unnamed officials for embezzling Covid funds close to Ushs 11 trillion during the first wave.

He also opposed direct remittance of money saying this might further spur corruption.

When asked why the Government had delayed to purchase radio sets as promised, Baryomunsi admitted that they had dropped the idea hoping that school going children would resume normal studies.

However, with the disease showing no signs of subsiding, he said that they will treat the matter with the urgency it deserves.

The post Covid-19: Gov’t to Take Final Decision Remitting Relief Cash On Wednesday first appeared on ChimpReports.



Source – chimpreports.com

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Agreement in principle reached over Suez Canal ship | Business and Economy News

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Ever Given container ship has been anchored since it was dislodged on March 29 after blocking the crucial waterway.

A representative for the owners and insurers of a giant cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March said on Wednesday an agreement in principle was reached in a compensation dispute with the canal authority.

Work was under way to finalise a signed settlement agreement as soon as possible and arrangements for the release of the Ever Given vessel would be made after formalities had been dealt with, Faz Peermohamed of Stann Marine said in a statement.

The Ever Given container ship has been anchored in a lake between two stretches of the canal since it was dislodged on March 29. It had been grounded across the canal for six days, blocking hundreds of ships and disrupting global trade.

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) demanded $916m in compensation to cover salvage efforts, reputational damage and lost revenue before publicly lowering the request to $550m.

The Ever Given’s Japanese owners, Shoei Kisen, and its insurers have disputed the claim and the ship’s detention under an Egyptian court order.

SCA lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr on Sunday told a court hearing over the ship’s detention that the vessel’s owners had presented a new compensation offer and negotiations were continuing.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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