(Bloomberg) -- The tension between Turkey’s top businesses and its president spiked as Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the Turkish Industry & Business Association, specifically targeting Tuncay Ozilhan, one of the country’s richest individuals.
“What was Turkey’s per capita income 17 years ago, and what is it now?” Erdogan said late Thursday during a speech in Istanbul. “Economically, at what level were you at the time and where are you now?” he asked, referring to Ozilhan. “Since then, how much has your company grown and how much stronger have your friends become? Don’t you ever assess this?”
Ozilhan this week made comments seen as criticism of Turkey’s economy and governance. The 71-year-old head of Anadolu Group said Turkey either abides by universal principles of democracy or “it becomes something else.”
Turkey must “overcome issues in its governance system,” he said on May 15, a thinly-veiled criticism of the executive presidential system that concentrates power in the hands of Erdogan.
“I know how you were doing 17 years ago, and I know how you’re doing now,” Erdogan retorted. “If needed, I can expose that. I know how to bring those who are hitting Turkey from the inside to account.”
Erdogan’s warnings point to his increasing intolerance of dissent ahead of a re-run of mayoral elections in Istanbul on June 23. His party lost the initial election in Turkey’s largest city and commercial center by a narrow margin in March.
Ozilhan is Turkey’s 94th richest person, with an estimated wealth of $525 million, according to a 2018 list by Forbes magazine. The companies he chairs include listed conglomerate AG Anadolu Grubu Holding, brewer Anadolu Efes Biracilik ve Malt Sanayii AS, supermarket chain Migros Ticaret AS, Coca-Cola Icecek AS and carmaker Anadolu Isuzu Otomotiv Sanayi ve Ticaret AS.
AG Anadolu fell as much as 1.8% to 10.26 liras in Istanbul, with the benchmark stock index down 0.3% at 11:22 a.m. local time. Coca-Cola Icecek shares dropped as much as 2%.
(Updates with share price moves in final pragraph.)
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