The Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) has called on BNY Mellon to immediately sever its ties with Aktif Bank (Aktif), Turkey’s largest privately-owned investment bank, which has been implicated in a host of illicit activities including money laundering, sanctions evasion and other corrupt practices. 

In February 2022, TDP initiated a campaign calling on international banks to cease their associations with corrupt Turkish financial sector actors. TDP research has revealed Aktif Bank’s involvement in grand-scale money laundering and corruption schemes while maintaining close connections to President Erdogan’s regime.

American investment giant BNY Mellon currently maintains a correspondent banking account with Aktif Bank, used to facilitate Aktif’s foreign currency exchange and payments. According to the FinCEN Files – a tranche of more than 2,500 leaked documents emanating from the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and covering almost $2 trillion of transactions between 2013-2014 – Aktif orchestrated 561 suspicious money transfers valued at $91.6 million through its partners in the United States. The documents also uncovered Aktif’s dubious client network, including the New Kabul Bank, which has been implicated in a multi-billion dollar financial corruption scandal, and Watan Group, a company suspected of having business dealings with the Taliban. 

The FinCEN Files revealed that BNY Mellon reported suspicious transfers from the transactions operated by Aktif Bank, notably those involving New Kabul Bank and Germany’s Wirecard Bank, and went as far as to freeze a number of accounts. Yet despite these evident concerns, BNY Mellon has not since severed its ties with Aktif.

In 2017, Aktif made headlines for facilitating the illicit business operations of Iranian-Turkish gold dealer, Reza Zarrab, convicted of participating in an elaborate and extensive scheme enabling Iran to escape US sanctions. It was reported that Zarrab opened an account at Aktif Bank with the help of Erdogan’s former Minister for Europe Egemen Bağış to facilitate the trader’s illegal dealings with Iran. 

Aktif Bank’s connections to Erdogan’s regime are extensive. The investment bank’s parent company is Çalik Holding. During the period covering some of Aktif Bank’s most controversial transactions, the CEO of Çalik Holding was Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law. Albayrak later became Energy and Natural Resources Minister and was notably accused of participating in the smuggling of ISIS oil in 2015. 

In light of these findings, TDP addressed a letter to Todd Gibbons, BNY Mellon’s CEO, outlining the serious reputational, legal and financial risks linked to BNY Mellon’s dealings with Aktif Bank. 

Commenting on BNY Mellon’s lack of response, Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the Turkish Democracy Project (TDP), stated: 

We urge BNY Mellon to immediately cease its association with Aktif Bank. BNY Mellon is well aware of Aktif’s murky practices and its relationship with business partners whose actions have been called into question. BNY Mellon’s partnership with Aktif Bank effectively condones these inadmissible practices and flouts both international law and financial transparency.”