Turkish bank Vakifbank appoints ex-wrestler to board, provoking social media ridicule

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Vakifbank, Turkey’s fourth-largest lender, provoked a social media storm after it appointed a former Olympic wrestling star to its board.

Turkiye Vakiflar Bankasi TAO named Hamza Yerlikaya, a Greco-Roman wrestler of the 1990s, as an independent board member on June 12, the bank said in an exchange filing. Yerlikaya serves as an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and as a deputy minister for youth and sports.

The decision prompted quips among social media users, who posted more than 70,000 times about the issue as of noon Saturday in Istanbul. One user tweeted photos of Turkish oil wrestlers with captions reading “Vakifbank board members,” while another joked Yerlikaya would be used to “pin down borrowers who fail to repay.”

“It’s not right for banks to designate those with no banking experience to their management, Faik Oztrak, spokesman of the opposition Republican People’s Party,” said by phone. “The ruling party has completely brushed aside merit-based assignments.”

Yerlikaya declined to comment when reached by phone.

The 44-year old claimed his first world title in 1993, at the age of 17. He finished his career with seven world and Olympic medals and eight European titles. In 2007, he was elected a lawmaker for the ruling Justice & Development Party. In 2015, he was appointed as a senior adviser to the president.

Vakifbank increased its capital by about 1.4 billion liras ($207 million) in May, as the government-run Turkey Wealth Fund became a major stakeholder in the lender. The bank posted a first quarter profit of 1.72 billion liras, up 164% from the same period a year earlier.

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