Red card for Istanbul rogue traders

By bne IntelliNews June 27, 2011

David O'Byrne in Istanbul -

Lights, cameras, secret codes, a car park full of luxury cars and a cast that includes a squad of top retired Turkish footballers. A new TV reality show perhaps? Turkish TV's latest attempt at squeezing yet more interest out of goings on in the country's fractuous "Super league"? Not at all, just the latest investigation into allegations of manipulation on the Istanbul Stock Exchange (IMKB).

The raids that have been shaking Istanbul's financial community since they started on Tuesday, June 21 have surprised few - allegations of market manipulation are nothing new, and investigations of unusual stock movements by Turkey's Capital markets Board (SPK) are unfortunately not uncommon. "There's nothing unusual in the SPK investigation - they do it all the time, either acting from tip offs or looking at suspicious stock movements," a market source tells bne on condition of anonymity.

But both the scale of the operation - carried out at dawn by Police without the prior knowlege of the IMKB - and the list of 38 arrestees has raised eyebrows. Those taken into custody include the current trainer of the Turkish national fooball team and former national team goalkeeper Engin Ipekoglu, the manager of the under-17 team Senol Ustaomer and a third former pro footballer Mecnur Colak who was barred from stock trading following a previous probe in 2006.

As has the stable of luxury cars seized by police and parked in the car parks of Istanbul's Sariyer Police station from where the investigation is being conducted. Not to mention a list of 47 more possible suspects circulated to brokers by the SPK with a request that their accounts be frozen. That list includes retired Turkish footballer Tayfur Havutcu, capped 44 times for the natioanl team and curretly manager of Istanbul football club Besiktas, and Murat Dilmen, brother of Ridvan Dilmen former Captain of the Turkish national football team and a top TV pundit.

Subsequently, four of those arrested including Ipekoglu and Ustaomer have been released, but Colak and 12 others have been remanded in custody, while investigations into 22 more are still ongoing.

Cards close to chest

Despite the high-profile arrests, coverage details of the actual investigation have been few, with the SPK giving little away ahead of charges being formally laid. According to IMKB head Huseyin Erkan, interviewed live on Turkey's CNBC-E rolling news channel, the investigations relate to trades made during 2009 and 2010.

Reports in the Turkish media have pointed to unusual movements in shares of four companies, all of whose shares dropped suddenly on news of the investigation. The four include brewer Turk Tuborg - which despite its name is now owned by Israel's International Beer Breweries - textile goup Hatep hatay Tekstil, investment group Isiklar Yatirim Holding and engineering group Makina Takim, whose chairman Faruk Suren coincidentally also used to be chairman of Istanbul football club Galatasaray. No allegations have been levelled against the companies themselves.

There have been a number of alleged scams involving Turkish stocks over the last 25 years since the IMKB was first established, mostly following the familiar "pump and dump" format. "Scams generally involve pumping a stock by persuading small players to buy, which pushes the price up further," the market source says. "Once the price is up, the manipulators sell and the price crashes," he explains, adding that it is generally only small buyers - people who wouldn't normally buy stocks or who might dabble as day traders - who get burned.

According to Ali Bahcuvan, head of BORYAD, Turkey's stock traders association, manipulation usually occurs on stocks of companies with small floats and where some classes of shares carry privileges. "Often there is the suspicion of complicity within the company," he says.

But while trading on the majority of stocks on the IMKB continued to be unaffected by the investigation, many are calling for a significant tightening up of both trading conditions and the way in which incidences of possible manipulation are dealt with. Experts point out that banned traders can still remain active using online accounts opened in others' names, while cases against them can drag on for years with no result and little disincentive to prevent either repeat offences, or others from following suit.

Interviewed on TV, the head of the IMKB, Huseyin Erkan, called for more detailed legislation aimed at stamping out malpractice. A sentiment echoed by Bahcuvan. "We need to reorganise the way in which cases like this are handled and to speed up the legal process," he says, adding that regulations governing trading through internet sites also need to significantly tightened.

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