Money laundering scandal could embarrass prominent Turks

Money laundering scandal could embarrass prominent Turks

Sezgin Baran Korkmaz

The controversial 43-year-old, better known by his initials SBK, began his professional life as a shoe shiner before rising through the corporate ranks at breakneck speed. He eventually became a billionaire known for generously distributing money for humanitarian purposes. It buys companies in financial difficulty for relatively modest amounts, rehabilitates them and sells them at exorbitant prices.

His name returned to the agenda last month, when Sedat Peker, a Turkish underworld leader, mentioned him to embarrass Home Secretary Suleyman Soylu. He claimed that Soylu received SBK last December and gave him to understand that legal proceedings had been initiated against him and that he had to leave Turkey immediately. SBK followed the minister’s advice and left the country the next day.

The origins of the story go back several months. In September last year, an Istanbul court blocked SBK’s bank accounts and banned him from leaving the country. On November 6, another Istanbul court, on the advice of the public prosecutor, quashed both actions.

The first stench began to emanate when the prosecutor who advised the court to lift the freeze on SBK’s bank account was promoted just 10 days later to the post of deputy justice minister.

To make the case more suspicious, the court’s verdict referred to a report by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) which concluded that the issue of money laundering should be examined by professional auditors. It seems that the Istanbul court preferred not to agree with MASAK’s suggestion and lifted the ban without waiting for the auditors’ conclusions. The final version of the MASAK report, dated January 20, concluded that money laundering had indeed taken place. But SBK had already left Turkey by then.

After his arrest in Austria, SBK confessed that during religious holidays he distributed gifts in Istanbul worth $ 3 million to bureaucrats and members of the judiciary, but more specifically to police officers and inspectors. So now we know how that wheel of corruption turned.

The case became more complicated as more irregularities emerged about Korkmaz

Yasar Yaki

SBK’s arrest warrant comes from a court in Salt Lake City, Utah. An American company was receiving a grant from the American government, claiming that it produced biodiesel. The amount of the grant was $ 511 million, of which $ 133 million was sent to SBK for money laundering in Turkey. The owner of the US company, who misled US authorities by claiming that biodiesel is being produced, has been arrested as he prepares to travel to Turkey. The US authorities now want SBK to return this money.

Opposition media in Turkey question whether it was appropriate for an interior minister to share inside information about the potential arrest of a businessman. The case has now become more complicated as new irregularities have surfaced over SBK, which means a bigger headache for Turkey. This incident is likely to remain a thorny issue in Turkish-American relations.

The Turkish government has chosen to keep a low profile as there is little ammunition left to retaliate.

As if the case weren’t complicated enough, SBK, days before his arrest, opened a new debate by claiming that Veyis Ates, a veteran media figure at pro-government TV channel Haberturk, called him and told him. proposed to eliminate his problems. He released part of a telephone recording, in which Ates said, “If you give me 10 million euros ($ 12 million), I could help you sort out your problems with the Turkish authorities through influential people. SBK only disclosed a three-minute segment of the recorded conversation and declined to disclose the rest to avoid disclosure of the names of important people.

Austrian authorities could extradite SBK to the United States, as Washington was the first to file an extradition request. But they may prefer to extradite him to Turkey because he is a Turkish citizen.

If SBK, who faces a long prison term if convicted in the United States, cooperates with prosecutors, what he says could cause serious embarrassment to many important people in Turkey. However, if he is tried in Turkish courts, he may not go to jail at all as the country’s laws are not tough when it comes to punishing money laundering. Even if he is convicted, the Turkish parliament could pass another law to forgive his financial irregularities, as it has done several times in the past. Transparency is steadily declining in Turkey.

• Yasar Yakis is a former Turkish Foreign Minister and a founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors of this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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