ECONOMY

Regulator unfreezes Uzans’ bank accounts

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkey’s banking watchdog said yesterday it had agreed to unfreeze the accounts of the controversial Uzan business family but only to allow it to pay for personnel wages and other basic expenditures. The banking regulation and supervision board said it had decided last week to allow companies from the troubled business empire to withdraw money to pay their employees’ wages as well as rents, electricity, water and heating bills. The Uzans, however, failed to present the company payrolls to the board as of January 26, the statement said. «Therefore, not the board but the shareholders and managers of the Uzan Group are responsible for employees not being paid, contrary to their publications and broadcasts,» the statement said in reference to a harsh media onslaught that the Uzans have launched against the government. A group of Uzan employees also launched a hunger strike last week to protest the freezing of accounts. The banking board froze the Uzan accounts as part of an inquiry into alleged large-scale fraud by the family, one of Turkey’s richest, whose interests range from media to telecommunication and construction. In a scandal described by Economy Minister Ali Babacan as a «theft of a size that may go down in world banking history,» several members of the family, including its patriarch Kemal Uzan, are wanted for alleged fraud and embezzlement that led to the seizure of their flagship bank, Imar, last year. The bank had run up a deficit estimated at $6 billion (4.7 billion euros). The Uzans argue that the government is out to destroy them for political reasons: One of the family scions, Cem Uzan, heads a nationalist party. The Uzans have been accused of fraud abroad as well. In July, a US court ordered them to pay $4.26 billion to Motorola, their mobile phone partner, for «huge fraud.»