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[OPINION] Turkey’s Erdoğan eyes gold, oil prospects in Somalia

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By Abdullah Bozkurt

Thanks to the eye-opening exposé on the leaked personal emails of Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, we now know that Turkey’s corrupt ruling family of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had long ago set its eyes on gold, oil and mining prospects in Somalia and had hidden these intentions behind the façade of the government’s humanitarian relief efforts to help Somalia rebuild itself from a failed state.

Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt

In an email dated Feb. 12, 2010, a confidential note sent to Egemen Bağış, then state minister responsible for the European Union accession talks, Hüseyin Gün, the managing director of Avicenna Capital, with London and Istanbul offices, shares the oil prospects in Somalia with the Turkish minister. Gün describes Somalia as his own “pet project” and says he can cooperate with the Turkish government in exploiting prospects in Somalia, a country he called “a strategic area that also possess locked sub-soil wealth.”

Bağış, a minister who was later incriminated in a scandal for taking some $1.5 million from Iranian businessman in exchange for government favors, immediately forwarded the note to Erdoğan’s son-in-law, who had no official position in the government and in fact was the CEO of a business group that has investments in oil and other sectors. The Turkish minister told Albayrak that he knew the family was interested in oil potential abroad, adding that he was ready to discuss the issue further with him.

In another email dated Aug. 15, 2011, Mustafa Varank, Erdoğan’s chief advisor, shared a highly confidential note with Albayrak as well as Erdoğan’s daughters Esra and Sümeyye. The report, written by Serdar Çam, the head of Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TİKA), after a field survey, reveals that Somalia has vast mineral resources that were untapped, especially copper and gold. It underlined that major powers have deliberately fanned the conflict in Somalia to keep these reserves safe for future exploitation.

From several communications, Erdoğan’s family members including his son-in-law Albayrak, appeared to have shown close interest in joining then-prime minister and now president Erdoğan’s first state visit to Somalia in August 2011. In 2014, the Turkish president secured a 30-year operating license for the Mogadishu port facilities for his business associate the Albayrak Group, which owns the pro-government daily Islamist daily Yeni Şafak.

To pursue his business interests, Erdoğan appointed a staunchly Islamist doctor as a non-career ambassador to Mogadishu in 2011. According to Turkish government insider Fuat Avni, Kani Torun funneled millions of dollars to Erdoğan’s business associates while he was there until 2014. He also met al-Shabab terror leaders secretly and sold them arms. Kani was rewarded for his services by Erdoğan, who appointed him chief advisor in 2014 and made him a deputy in Parliament a year later. He is currently serving as deputy chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission. Kani was in Mogadishu on the eve of an Al-Shabab attack on a school van in Mogadishu that killed two Turkish teachers and four Somalis on March 30, 2016. The school was affiliated with Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Erdoğan on corruption and aiding and abetting radical groups.

Erdoğan blackmailed the Somali government into expelling volunteers affiliated with the Gülen movement because the clandestine operations he is running in Sub-Saharan Africa using Somalia as launching pad may risk being exposed. That is why he ordered the construction of Turkey’s largest embassy compound ever in Mogadishu while building a military training center and military school. Erdoğan is doing all this in Somalia without engaging with key stakeholders in the Sub-Saharan Africa such as Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa because he knows his clandestine plans will be thwarted if these heavyweights are involved in building Somalia. The website affiliated with Turkish al-Qaeda leader Abu Hanzala (aka Halis Bayancuk), who was released from prison by Erdoğan, openly describes Kenyan troops serving in the African Union mission in Somalia as occupiers and glorifies al-Shabab attacks.

During a visit to Mogadishu in March 2012 with then-deputy prime minister and now Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, I remember him telling reporters aboard the maiden flight to Somalia by national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) that his boss assigned him the specific task of paying a follow-up visit to Somalia every month. Bozdağ is a loyalist who saved Erdoğan’s corrupt cronies and ministers who were incriminated in December 2013 massive graft investigations. His choice for the Somalia portfolio was not random as he was the one who orchestrated the release of jailed gold-trader and Iranian national Reza Zarrab, who bribed Turkish government officials and Erdoğan’s family members.

Erdoğan’s interest in oil prospects is not limited to Somalia, of course. He and his family members were closely involved in oil extraction from Iraq’s Kurdistan to the Caspian Sea. Using Turkish government clout, they pursued opportunities to partner up with foreign entities to enrich themselves. The Erdoğan mafia family used every trick in the book to secure their interests, from police raids and the arrest of executives of Azerbaijan’s state-owned company SOCAR’s Turkish subsidiaries including PETKİM to reshuffling the management to offering perks to Iraqi Kurdistan officials to help get their oil sold in international markets despite objections from the federal government in Baghdad.

What is more, Albayrak was secretly negotiating with Israeli firms on partnering to lay a pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea to transport natural gas from offshore fields while his father-in-law had been harshly bashing Israel every day. In the meantime, Russia’s claims at the United Nations that Erdoğan’s son Bilal, who owns shipping lines that were involved in trading and shipping oil illegally extracted from Syrian and Iraqi fields by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), still stand.

Likewise, Erdoğan’s insistence on moving forward with mining operations in the Cerattepe area of Turkey’s northeastern province of Artvin also has to do with gold potential. Despite the outcry and protests from locals who want to preserve the beautiful landscape in Cerattepe, Erdoğan ordered his police to crush protests and reshuffled the panel of judges to defeat legal challenges filed by 751 plaintiffs and their 61 lawyers. The leaked confidential note presented to Albayrak on Jan. 19, 2016 shows that the Cerattepe area has $1.2 billion worth copper reserves, $963 million in gold and $359 million in  silver reserves. The mining will be done by Eti Bakir, a subsidiary of Cengiz Holding A.S., owned by Mehmet Cengiz, a businessman very close to Erdoğan. Cengiz is reportedly a caretaker for many business interests for the Erdoğan family. He was indicted after a Dec. 25, 2013 corruption probe but was saved from legal troubles by Erdoğan.

Time and again Erdoğan said he did not come to Somalia to exploit the natural resources of the African nation, unlike other colonial powers. But behind all this posturing, it turns out he has actually set his eyes on Somalia’s untapped reserves to enrich his family enterprise using, or rather abusing, the good name and unblemished record of Turkey

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