Turkey closes media outlets seized from Gulen-linked owner

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish authorities have shut down media businesses seized last year from Koza Ipek Holding, a conglomerate linked to a U.S.-based preacher accused of plotting against President Tayyip Erdogan, according to an exchange filing.

Employees block the door as riot police try to enter Kanalturk and Bugun TV building in Istanbul, Turkey, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Usame Ari/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Ageny

The state seized Koza Ipek and its media outlets, including the newspaper Bugun and television station Kanalturk, in October on suspicion of financial irregularities, prompting criticism from rights groups in Turkey and abroad.

“Operations were halted due to constant losses and the depletion of capital, while (the firms’) corporate entities will be retained,” the stock exchange filing, which was released late on Monday, said.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen is wanted for allegedly running a “parallel” structure within state institutions that sought to topple Erdogan who has led Turkey, first as prime minister, since 2003.

Erdogan clamped down on Gulen’s commercial interests after police and prosecutors considered sympathetic to the preacher opened a graft investigation of Erdogan’s inner circle in 2013. He has also purged police and judiciary.

Separately, a state deposit insurance fund which last year took over Islamic lender Bank Asya, founded by Gulen’s followers, said on Tuesday it would be liquidated if a buyer was not found within the next three months.

Erhan Basyurt, Bugun’s former editor-in-chief until the state takeover, said the media business had a valuation of $200 million in 2015 and that the new management had shown investments, including acquisitions, as losses.

Bugun had a circulation of 110,000 which has fallen to less than 18,000, most of which are giveaways, Basyurt told Reuters.

The authorities said at the time that the raid on parent company Koza Ipek was part of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities and was backed by a court order. The company denies wrongdoing.

Koza Ipek’s current management could not immediately be reached for further comment beyond the stock exchange filing.

Bugun and Kanalturk’s websites were still online, but appeared to have stopped updating news on Monday.

Once critical of Erdogan, Bugun and sister paper Millet turned pro-government the day after state-appointed management sacked most of the staff just days before a Nov. 1 election.

Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alexander Smith