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Turkey fines media firm $2.5 billion

  • Story Highlights
  • News of the penalty send Dogan Holding stock prices into a nose-dive
  • Dogan Holding has been in a dispute with Turkey's finance ministry over taxes
  • Fine will amount to the death of the conglomerate, Dogan Holding executives say
  • Chairman Dogan accuses PM Erdogan of trying to style criticism of government
By Ivan Watson
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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey's government slapped manufacturing and media giant Dogan Holding with a massive $2.53 billion fine for unpaid taxes, the conglomerate reported.

In a dispute that has often spilled onto the front pages of its newspapers, Dogan Holding executives have accused the Turkish government of penalizing the company in an effort to silence its critics. Those are charges the government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly denied.

The government would not be making any written or verbal statement on the fine, a press secretary for Turkey's finance ministry told CNN. News of the penalty sent Dogan Holding stock prices into a nose-dive on Tuesday. The group reported total assets of about $2.9 billion as of June 30, 2009.

Dogan Holding is a sprawling, Istanbul-based holding company with interests in oil and gas, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. It also owns an armada of TV channels, newspapers and publishing companies, in addition to CNN sister network CNN Turk, a joint venture owned by Dogan Holding and Turner Broadcasting International.

For months Dogan Holding has been in a dispute with Turkey's finance ministry over taxes.

Turkish authorities fined Dogan Holding the equivalent of half a billion dollars earlier this year, for alleged irregularities arising from the sale of shares to Axel Springer, a German publishing company.

This latest fine will amount to the death of the conglomerate, executives from Dogan Holding's media companies said.

"We can't pay that money. It's cold blooded murder, nothing else," said Mehmet Ali Birand, an anchorman and the editor in chief of the CNN Turk and Kanal D television stations, which are both owned by Dogan Holding. "No company has had such a fine in history."

The chairman of Dogan Holding is Aydin Dogan, who in interviews earlier this year accused Erdogan of trying to stifle criticism of the government coming from within his media empire.

The Turkish prime minister denied these claims in an interview with CNN last March.

"I find this very ugly. It's impossible for me to accept this," Erdogan said in the March 21 interview.

"The finance ministry follows procedures and the Dogan Group must abide by these procedures. There are requirements they need to fulfill. They have the right to take this process to court. Therefore this process has nothing to do with me personally."

Some media watchdogs organizations disagree.

"If you look at the background to this, particularly at the beginning of the year, all of this emerged in a war of words between the prime minister and the media in general. And in particular the Dogan Group," said David Dadge, director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

"One of our main concerns would be that the tax investigation and the actual penalty belong more in the political sphere then in the financial sphere."

All About TurkeyRecep Tayyip Erdogan

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