Uzans face record jail term

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkish prosecutors have asked for a total of up to 145,024 years in jail for 17 defendants for their alleged role in one of the country’s biggest banking scandals, the Anatolia news agency reported. The demand was made late Friday in an indictment issued against 25 people, including two members of a controversial business family. It followed a lengthy investigation into irregularities at Imar Bank, which was seized by Turkey’s banking watchdog in July from the Uzan family, one of the richest in Turkey. The indictment charged that the bank had hidden the real amount of deposits, sold non-existing treasury bonds to clients and channeled funds into offshore accounts. Turkish officials have put the deficit at a staggering $6 billion (4.96 billion euros) and Economy Minister Ali Babacan has described the Imar Bank scandal as a «theft of a size that may go down in world banking history.» The prosecution called for jail terms totaling between 87,010 and 145,024 years for 17 people, including the head of the family Kemal Uzan and his brother Yavuz Uzan, on charges of embezzlement, fraud, ignoring official warnings relating to offshore transactions and setting up a criminal gang. The astronomical demands for jail terms stemmed from the prosecutor laying charges for each of the more than 19,000 non-existing treasury bonds sold. But under the Turkish penal code, the maximum jail sentence a defendant can serve is 36 years. The indictment called for prison sentences of between seven and 14 years for seven defendants, including Kemal Uzan’s son, Hakan, and a second brother, Bahattin, for embezzlement and setting up a criminal gang. Kemal Uzan and Hakan are currently on the run from police. The Uzan family are no strangers to controversy either at home or abroad. Earlier this year, authorities, citing alleged fraud and irregularities, also seized two power plants controlled by the family, changed the management of their second bank, and canceled a privatization tender they had won. In July, a United States court ordered the Uzans to pay $4.26 billion to Motorola, their cell-phone partner in Turkey, saying that the family had «perpetrated huge fraud.» The family say the government onslaught is a politically motivated campaign to stop the rise of the Youth Party led by one of the family’s scions, Cem Uzan.