Godiva Owner Tumbles on Speculation It’s Next for Erdogan Purge

  • Listed units of Yildiz Holding retreat on press reports
  • Yildiz’s chairman says the company’s ‘work is clean’

The listed units of one of Turkey’s biggest holding companies sank after a column in a local newspaper fueled speculation that it will be caught up in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s nationwide crackdown against his opponents, even after its chairman said the accusations have no merit.

An article in Sabah newspaper on Friday accused an unidentified holding company of links to a movement the government blames for the failed coup in July. While it didn’t name Yildiz Holding AS, a sweet maker that acquired Belgium-based Godiva Chocolates in 2007, traders speculated it was the subject of the story. Some news outlets, including OdaTV, have linked the accusations to Yildiz directly.

Ulker Biskuvi, the biggest of Yildiz’s listed units, plunged 8.6 percent by the market close in Istanbul to 16.63 liras, the lowest level since August 2015. Private equity firm Gozde Girisim dropped 6.3 percent, and grocery wholesaler Bizim Toptan slumped 10 percent.

Murat Ulker, the company’s billionaire owner, took to Twitter to reassure investors and ask them not to heed the speculation. “There are those who are making a fuss for no reason,” he said. “Our conscience is clear, our work is clean.”

The government has seized almost 600 companies as it systematically targets those it accuses of links to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen since the July 15 attempted putsch. The selloff highlights the growing fear surrounding Turkey’s deepening purge and the prospect of lasting harm to the economy and investor sentiment.

“The extraordinary move in Yildiz Holding shares is related to the news flow,” Kayahan Demirak, a research analyst at Turk Ekonomi Bankasi AS’s brokerage in Istanbul, said in a note to clients on Monday. He linked his comments to articles in local media speculating that the Sabah newspaper report was referring to Yildiz.

The company is the largest food manufacturer in central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with 50,000 employees, according to its website. It bought U.K.-based United Biscuits Holdings Ltd. in 2014 for about $3.3 billion, and has worked in partnerships with companies including Cargill Inc. and Kellogg Co.

“We are urgently asking that the report that damaged several of our listed companies, investors and our brands, and which could further bear serious consequences, be corrected immediately,” Yildiz said in a media-department statement to Bloomberg News, referring to the report on OdaTV.

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