Turkey plans "wealth amnesty" to bring back foreign cash

ISTANBUL, April 17 Wed Apr 17, 2013 1:15pm EDT

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ISTANBUL, April 17 (Reuters) - Turkey is working on plans for a "wealth amnesty" to lure back funds which affluent Turks keep abroad as it seeks to bolster economic growth, the country's finance minister said on Wednesday.

Mehmet Simsek said the government, acting on the instruction of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, was looking at reintroducing the programme, which was last used in 2009 when Turkey was in the economic doldrums. He gave no further details.

Under the previous scheme, Turks were able to repatriate funds without their origin being too closely scrutinized and without facing penalties or punitive tax rates.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan was quoted by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet as saying Turks held a registered $130 billion in foreign accounts, of which $50 billion were held in U.S. Treasury bills.

The amnesty programme in 2009 drew back around 50 billion lira ($28 billion at current exchange rates) from Turkish firms and individuals, but the amount undershot government hopes, partly due to a 2 percent tax on the incoming funds.

Babacan blamed the global economic crisis for undermining the programme's potential four years ago, and said Turkey's recently-emerged status as a "safe haven" would make it more successful this time around.

Turkey was Europe's fastest-growing economy in 2011, expanding 8.5 percent, but growth slowed sharply to 2.2 percent last year and the government is keen to see a recovery ahead of an election cycle beginning next year. ($1 = 1.7881 Turkish liras) (Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens)

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