Terror financing bill sparks debate among Kurdish businesses
As a new terrorism financing law is being debated, opposition parties and business groups are concerned the law could be abused.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 14/05/12
Sahismail Bedirhanoglu, a prominent 51-year-old businessman from Diyarbakir, worries that businesses and investors will be scared away from Turkey's largely Kurdish populated southeast to avoid being targeted by a new government-sponsored Terror Financing Bill.
"This is a very dangerous draft and it is against all the development programmes that our government, as well as the business community, have been promoting in this poor region," Bedirhanoglu, who is also a chairman of the Southeastern Businessmen and Industrialists Association (GUNSIAD), told SES Türkiye.
A long-delayed bill that would impose harsh penalties on individuals, organisations and companies financing terrorist activities has caused heated debate in parliament's Justice Commission.
The three opposition parties -- Republican People's Party (CHP), the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) -- have raised concerns that the government could use the new regulations against its political and business rivals at a time when hundreds of terror-related charges, many on flimsy grounds, are frequently levelled by prosecutors.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials, for their part, stress that their only goal is to protect citizens, stem terrorism financing and keep the country from being blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force.
"We've passed the bill at the [Justice] commission and sent it for general discussions … This is a very important and sensitive period for our country and I think it's important to overhaul the legislation in financial crimes, especially with regard to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorists," Harun Tufekci, an AKP member of the Justice Commission, told SES Türkiye. The draft bill meets all global standards, he says.
In Diyarbakir, however, business leaders remain concerned that the bill envisages stricter regulations such as freezing the bank accounts of those accused of funding terrorist organisations by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), without waiting for a lengthy court process, even if the money is not directly used for acts of terrorism.
"There is a huge gap here," explained Celal Balik, GUNSIAD's administrative director. "This bill can easily accuse any single businessman in Diyarbakir of doing business with PKK-related buyers and sellers, even if he has no idea what the terrorists look like."
"This is unfair," he said, because according to the new regulations, the government will be able to target such businesses under "terror finance."
For Bedirhanoglu, an additional problem is that instead of the courts, decisions will be made by MASAK, which will have too much authority and might not be trusted to make the right decisions.
"Financial people cannot do the prosecutors' job," he said, noting independent courts should investigate terrorism financing.
"Our business partners and … members are very uncomfortable about this [bill]. They doubt that it's about terrorism, but about the Kurdish issue. It has already impacted businessmen psychologically," he emphasised.
Celal Dincer, a CHP deputy on the Justice Commission, also criticises the draft, worrying that the government may use the bill to go after businessmen and municipalities run by opposition mayors.
"If the government really intends to target terror financing, it must clearly indicate its target and intention," he said.
Tufekci, however, says that the authorities would look for "clear intent" in any terrorism financing case. "This is not something totally new in our country. A similar measure already exists in the Turkish Penal Code that describes terrorism financing as a crime," he said.
Hasan Selim Ozertem, an analyst at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK), agrees that the government-sponsored bill would help Turkey prevent terrorism financing more effectively.
He says terror organisations are broadening their financial reach in order to fund their operations.
"The PKK has its own regulations by threatening the business people and getting their money," he said.
"The terrorists were even killing some business members who don't support the group in southeastern regions," he told SES Türkiye, adding that the new terror finance law would protect the businessmen rather than harm them.