The curious case of Bogac Ozdemir
The Chinese Communist Party is flexing its economic muscle in order to bully firms into squashing free speech. Harry Jee reports
Bogac Ozdemir is a relatively obscure figure outside of the world of credit and banking, but in the financial world news of his summary professional execution at the hands of Australian Bank ANZ for the crime of speaking the truth about the Chinese government is being discussed on trading floors from Hong Kong to London.
Based in Singapore, Bogac Ozdemir was the Global Head of Credit, G4 & LM Rates Trading at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). He had painstakingly become one of ANZ’s top performers and their most profitable individual trader, making hundreds of millions of dollars for the bank and completely turning around unprofitable departments.
He was also outspoken on LinkedIn on everything from the failures of the US Federal Reserve to the benefits of the Japanese Meiji Reformation, with a keen eye to current affairs. His public commentary, however, appears to have been his undoing though when, in a March 2020 post about the Coronavirus crisis and the response of various governments, he had the temerity to say: “I don’t want to say anything about China because we are all in this mess because of China and I don’t believe anything from there.”
Apparently voicing an opinion held by the vast majority of the population and reported in most major media outlets is no longer allowed in 2020. Before long, two Chinese-language pieces appeared in Australia slamming Bogac Ozdemir as “arrogant”, “prejudiced” and a “rude racist”. A member of the Australian Financial Markets Association issued a quote decrying the comment’s “outrageous ignorant racism”. ANZ issued a statement deploring Ozdemir’s “distinct lack of judgement”, promising “a full inquiry” and declaring that the comment was “clearly not in keeping with our standards”.
Rumour has it that the Chinese financial regulator and several CEOs of Chinese corporations were alerted to Bogac Ozdemir’s comments, expressing their outrage to ANZ and putting pressure on them to launch an investigation into him. Whether an inquiry was launched or not is unclear, but the latest on the financial grapevine is that Ozdemir has been booted out of his role, having been thrown under the bus by ANZ whose spinelessness is rivalled only by the jellyfish floating off Australia’s coastline.
His case is frightening for anyone who believes in free expression, or the value of open enquiry. If a person of Ozdemir’s standing can be fired for voicing such a mainstream opinion, what hope does the average person have when the spotlight is turned upon them? If a major Australian bank will fire one of it’s star performers for speaking out against China, how can we expect any company to stand up to the Chinese government’s pressure? These questions will undoubtedly add the increasing chill that surrounds public discourse, and encourage anyone concerned with maintaining their livelihood to self-censor more than ever before.
Moreover, Ozdemir’s removal serves as yet another demonstration of the steadily expanding soft power of the Chinese state. No longer does the CCP’s iron grip on the flow of information cease to apply at the border of its country. Across the world, the message is clear: keep to the party line, or suffer the consequences. This can be state of affairs can be allowed no longer. China’s influence must be curtailed. The only alternative is a world in which we must all learn the lessons of Bogac Ozdemir.
Harry Jee is Research Officer at Conservatives for Liberty, the libertarian campaign group.
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