Turkey in 2021 must be spectacular to watch from the outside but things are not that fun inside the country. As gaps in the economy, democracy and judiciary are growing, the agenda of the country has squeezed into a circle of crime organizations, disguised state structures, trade and politics. Actually, the current agenda is the outcome of these gaps. In the latest episode of the debate, which does not seem to be the last one, a duel is ongoing between a well-known figure of the underground world, and the country’s interior minister. Sedat Peker, the underground world figure in the debate, has responded with insults to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who deemed him “head of a criminal organization” and “mafia scum.”
President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın found a more elegant definition for Peker: “The mafiatic person.”
In Turkey of the year 2021, videos published every other day by a fugitive “mafiatic person”, who fled due to probes against him, marks the agenda. The security apparatus of the state, which has found “Fettuhlah Gülenist persons” in Mongolia or Kosovo, somehow cannot find “mafiatic” Sedat Peker, who challenges it in each video.
So should we be suspicious that the state has made an evaluation that keeping Peker outside the country is preferable – keeping in mind that Turkey has sent some newspaper clippings to the U.S. which indeed might justify Washington’s stance of not extraditing Gülen? It is impossible to figure it out in this mess. Not yet.
It was odd enough that Soylu was engaged in an exchange of words with Peker. Still, while reading spokesperson Kalın’s Twitter messages onTwitter, I thought about how the country has turned into a human-grinding mill. Kalın, who is also the President’s security and foreign policy advisor, is conducting the most secret security and diplomacy negotiations with the U.S., Russia, China and Germany; his word has such weight. On the other hand, he is pushed into a really bad smelling debate initiated by a “mafiatic person”, just in a bid to hit the political opposition. It is a pity. If the real intention was about showing that Erdoğan backs Soylu in this debate, his Communication Director Fahrettin Altun had already expressed such support. However, Altun’s statement lacked criticism on the opposition because of a newly introduced line not to get engaged in domestic politics. Perhaps it was Erdoğan who appointed the task to Kalın instead of his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik.
Is it just for the sake of a marina?
Soylu replied to Peker’s latest video on May 13. Peker had also slammed Mehmet Ağar, a former interior minister, for taking over the management of a marine in the Aegean resort of Bodrum. Ağar told Sözcü newspaper that “if he had not been engaged, the marina would have been taken over by the mafia.” Minister Soylu also responded to Ağar.
The Yalıkavak marina in question offers dock yachts larger than 40 meters and until recently it belonged to Azerbaijani businessperson Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu. Mansimov was a captain in the Red Army before the Soviet collapse. Then he came to Turkey, acquired the rights to transport oil sold by Russian Lukoil and Azerbaijani SOCAR, became the owner of one of the world’s leading commercial fleets, and achieved some three-quarters of the Black Sea oil transportation. In the 2000s, it was reported in the press that Mansimov entered the oil transportation trade with then-prime minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan and his brother Mustafa Erdoğan. Mansimov became one of the figures in Turkey in a short time, but then his business went south with Russian and Azerbaijani companies not renewing his contracts. Mansimov sued these companies but, meanwhile, his Palmali group came to the brink of bankruptcy. Finally, Mansimov was arrested in 2020 on the charges of “membership of FETÖ,” the network of Gülen, and his company went bankrupt.
In the videos, Peker claims that Mansimov’s Yalıkavak marina was used for drug smuggling over large yachts, and the facility was seized by Mehmet Ağar, who entered Yalıkavak marina management, and his son Tolga Ağar, a ruling AKP lawmaker, after Mansimov came at odds with the government.
According to the reports by the United Nations, Turkey –along with Russia– was on the main route of heroin trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe and from there to the U.S. Turkish police have increased their fight against drugs in recent years. In 2019, 1.5 tons of heroin, the largest amount seized at one time in Turkey, was found in a truck that transported minerals in the eastern province of Erzurum. The heroin was being shipped to Europe via Afghanistan-Iran. There were claims that Azeri-Georgian Nadir Salifov, nicknamed “Lotu Kuli”, was trafficking drugs via the trucks of the Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia vegetable-fruit transport mafia. Peker claimed that Ağar had called on Lotu Kuli to Turkey “to eliminate himself.” Lotu Kuli was killed in Antalya, Turkey.
On the other hand, there has been an increase in Turkey-related international drug operations, including South America, in recent months. So Ağar’s remarks to Sözcü that the marina “would be seized by mafia” if he hadn’t taken it over, has such a background.
So, Soylu opposed former minister Ağar’s words, because they implicated his ministry.
The minister accused the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), İYİ Party, along with the media outlets that wrote on Peker’s videos, naming all supporters of FETÖ and the outlawed PKK.
Then, Ağar made yet another statement, saying that the newspaper was not faulty, and he apologized for his words on risks of mafia taking over the marina. It was not usual that Ağar, who is known for his challenging and high-voice discourse, was apologizing from both the minister and the police department.
Center-right politicians and mafia
So it would be meaningful to remember the career of Ağar, who according to Peker, is the “head of the Turkish deep state”, a definition that I find exaggerated.
He served as the police chief in Ankara and Istanbul in 1990s, before entering politics at center-right True Path Party (DYP). But following the Susurluk Scandal in 1996, he was prisoned to five years in 2001 on charges of “establishing an armed organization to commit a crime”. In a road accident near the Susurluk district of the northwestern province of Balıkesir on 3 November 1996, the car of Sedat Bucak, a DYP lawmaker and the leader of a Kurdish tribe, crashed with a truck. Bucak survived but Abdullah Çatlı, the ultra-nationalist, “Grey Wolf mafia leader Abdullah Çatlı and Istanbul Deputy Police Chief Hüseyin Kocadağ, known for his leftist tendency, were killed inside the car. With the accident, a chain of politics-mafia-trade-states relations that also concerned unsolved murders between 1993 and 1995, including the killings of some Kurdish business people who were accused of supporting the PKK, came to the surface.
The investigations into the issue were launched during the tenure of Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz, the rival of Tansu Çiller who headed the DYP at the time. Before his sentence was upheld, Ağar served as the leader at the DYP, and the Democrat Party (DP), its successor. Soylu, today’s Interior Minister, had taken over the leadership of the DP from Ağar, in 2008, and became more visible in the stage of politics. In 2012, one year before Soylu – a harsh critic of Erdoğan at the time – joined the ruling AKP, Ağar’s sentence was upheld and he was put in into prison in 2012. One year later, he was released on parole.
Ağar described his jail time as the “completion of the state duty”, and has started supporting the AKP since the 2014 elections.
As Soylu las served as the labor and interior minister in Erdoğan’s cabinets since 2015, Ağar took the management of Yalıkavak Marina with his son Tolga Ağar. Tolga Ağar entered the parliament as a deputy of AKP lawmaker from his hometown Elâzığ in 2018. He is a member of the National Defense Commission of the parliament.
Çakıcı, Peker and “state duties”
The name of Sedat Peker had just begun to be heard in the 1990s, when Alaattin Çakıcı’s reputation was well established as a mafia leader. In 1998, he played a role behind the scenes in the sale of the Turkish Commercial Bank (Türkbank) to the construction contractor Korkmaz Yiğit. The scandalous sale of the bank led to the end of the Mesut Yılmaz government fell. Çakıcı was caught in France in the same year regarding the crimes he was charged with, including instigating the murder of his ex-wife Nuriye Uğur Çakıcı. A red passport, a document granted only to bureaucrats and high-level politicians on diplomatic state duty, under another name was found on him. Meral Akşener, who is now the leader of the İYİ Party and had served as the interior minister after Ağar, claimed that Çakıcı fleed Turkey just before being caught thanks to then Motherland Party (ANAP) lawmaker Eyüp Aşık.
Çakıcı was sentenced to yet 10 months in jail for insulting President Erdoğan in a letter he wrote to Erdoğan from prison. However, he was released from prison in 2020. Erdogan’s election ally Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), played a part in Çakıcı’s benefiting from parole due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Bahçeli previously visited Çakıcı in prison and a photo of the duo was handed to the press by the MHP administration. After his release, Bahçeli hosted him at the MHP headquarters in Ankara. Bahçeli praised Çakıcı from the rostrum of parliament as “idealist fellow in serving the country”. Çakıcı said in his court statements that he had “served for the National Intelligence Organization (MİT),
while abroad. Nuri Gündeş, the former head of the MİT Istanbul Region and then the Head of Foreign Operations of the Turkish intelligence organization, saluted Çakıcı and sent his greetings to him in prison during a live broadcast. There is an allegation that Çakıcı was used in intelligence operations against armed Armenian organizations. Çakıcı also met with Mehmet Ağar after he was released. With them were retired colonel Korkut Eken, whose name was involved in “mafiatic” allegations while working for the MİT and the police, and Engin Alan, a retired lieutenant general who was a member of parliament from the MHP ranks after serving as the Special Forces Command and was imprisoned in the Ergenekon trials. (All suspects in the Ergenekon coup attempt case were acquitted, with Fethullah Gülenist being blamed of plotting against generals.) That specific photo of the group was indicating the behind-the-scenes change in relationships.
While Çakıcı was in prison, Sedat Peker, the self-claimed appointee of “deep state” duties, and his organization grew up.
Peker felt insulted!
In one of his recent videos, he said the Interior Ministry’s report on “organized crime organizations, is an insult to him because it cites that he has a mere “257 men” whereas Çakıca “has 438).
He said he held a 30,000-people meeting to back the AKP-MHP election alliance.
Peker also claimed that he fleed Turkey upon a tip from his cadre in the Interior Ministry –an allegation denied by Soylu– and recorded his videos –according to his claim– in subsequently in Albania, Macedonia, Morocco and Dubai. All come after Çakıcı’s release. In 2017, he had been granted the “philanthropist businessperson of the Year” award by Milliyet newspaper of Demirören Group, which later acquired Hürriyet, another pro-government media outlet. So wasn’t he the one that the AKP organizations invited to their events as a guest? Wasn’t he the one who went around with guard policemen provided by the Interior Ministry. Peker, the “mafiatic figure,” claims that he was “serving the state”, but that Ağar and his team made him beak up with Berat Albayrak, the former Minister of Treasury and Finance and Erdoğan’s son-in-law. He claims that the Bosphorus Global (Pelikan Group), supported by Serhat Albayrak, Beart Albayrak’s brother in the administration of the pro-government Sabah newspaper, is carrying out a smear campaign against his identity as a businessperson and wants to portray him as a gang leader. But what was his service to country, indeed?
So what’s actually going on?
The developments are almost similar to the Susurluk Scandal of 1996, but suggest that an even bigger scandal could erupt. It’s not just about Peker’s videos. For example, Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, one of the most prominent “business people”, is also abroad because he is being investigated for a money-laundering operation linked to the Mormon sect in the U.S.; he also publishes videos, saying that he is Switzerland. At the same time, came the investigation into the cryptocurrency fraud by the Thodex company owned by Faruk Fatih Ozer, a 24-year-old “business person” with an unknown background. He also fled abroad. All of these happen at a time when the opposition is holding an insistent campaign, saying that the government wasted some $128 billion in the period of Albayrak‘s ministry due to a stubborn policy of “low interest rate, low inflation, low exchange rate.” Opposition leaders Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his ally Meral Akşener do not let the issue drop from the agenda.
I previously wrote here that U.S. President Joe Biden considered a possible retaliation from Turkey when he declared April 24 the “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day” as “unlikely”, given that the Turkish economy would not risk a new shock due to the foreign currency shortage it faces.
Just to returning to our main topic, it would be naive to think that if there are relations related to the international oil and drug trade and therefore money laundering, they will remain limited to a showdown that remains only within Turkey.
On May 12, we talked on my YouTube channel with Cevat Öneş, an experienced intelligence officer who retired as Chief of Intelligence after working for MİT for forty years.
I can give the following summary from his evaluations:
• The need for illicit money may arise all over the world in periods when the economic crisis deepens, democracy loses depth, and the judiciary is ineffective.
• Benefits are measured in billions when the issue is about drugs, especially heroin and cocaine, and a conflict of interest emerges between interest groups.
• As we move away from democracy and law toward authoritarianism, an environment of non-merit interests arises in administration and commerce.
• The administrations, may try to suppress and silence the opposition, civil society and the media with tools other than the official state apparatuses. (As an example of this, Öneş cites the “lynch attempt” against Kılıçdaroğlu in Ankara in 2019, and the recent increase in the beating up of journalists.)
• The allegations and the data in the allegations in Peker’s videos are important. They must be investigated by an independent and impartial judiciary and by the parliament.
• The difference of today’s environment from the Susurluk environment of the 1990s was that in the 1990s, there were structures within the state that would not like to take photos with crime organization members but fight against them.
• In a country that does not lack democracy and law, the events that took place in the 1990s cannot still be discussed in the 2020s.
Turkey will democratize and normalize.
But cannot get rid of the mafiatic relations that poison trade, politics and state administration.
As we said above, these should spectacular material for those who watch Turkey from outside, especially those who are not friends of Turkey.
It hurts us inside.