[OPINION] Erdoğan helps drug runner, racketeer who works with Turkey’s intel agency

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Metro Tourism owner Galip Öztürk

Abdullah Bozkurt

A long-time drug runner and jihadist trafficker who is under permanent contract with Turkey’s MİT intelligence agency (National Intelligence Organization, or Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) has recently been saved from a sea of legal troubles in the criminal justice system by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court ruled last week that Galip Öztürk, a convicted felon who has been involved in an organized crime syndicate that has a large portfolio, from money laundering and drug trafficking to racketeering and the transport of jihadists within and without Turkey, should be retried and that the execution of his prior sentence be halted. The ruling came despite overwhelming evidence that led to Öztürk’s conviction after years of painstaking investigation, prosecution and trial procedures. His conviction had already been upheld on appeal in the higher courts and would have locked him away for good had Erdoğan not intervened.

This is hardly surprising given the fact that Erdoğan often keeps the company of crooks, criminals and terrorists and uses them to do his dirty business dealings in Turkey and abroad. He is one of those thugs who do what Erdoğan tells him to do. This man stands out from the rest because he controls the largest nationwide bus operation in Turkey that carries passengers as well as cargo. Öztürk’s main business, Metro Turizm Seyahat Organizasyon ve Ticaret A.Ş., had turnover of TL 860 million in 2017 according to Fortune 500’s list of largest companies in Turkey. His investment arm, Metro Ticari ve Mali Yatırımlar Holding A.Ş., has a stake in about a dozen companies operating in the mining, oil, food, tourism and hospitality industries, while he controls some 40 companies directly or through surrogates.

In May 2014 during an interview with the A-Haber news station, which is owned by the Erdoğan family, Öztürk publicly admitted that his firm’s vehicles were used by MIT when he was asked about trucks that were intercepted in January 2014 while carrying illegal arms shipments destined for jihadists in Syria. He said police raided Metro’s offices and cargo hubs in southeastern Adana province and revealed he was under investigation. In November 2016, when Erdoğan publicly raised his threat of forcing migrants to European borders to arm-twist the European Union, his henchman Öztürk announced that his fleet was ready to transport all refugees to border areas to flood Europe with migrants. He was paying his dues to the master who helped him survive serious legal challenges.

Öztürk, a 53-year old Turkish national from the northeastern province of Samsun, was an errand boy when he came to Istanbul at the age of 13. He started working at a small teahouse and at public toilet facilities in Istanbul’s then-main bus station, Topkapi. He made his career when he was brought in under the wings of Hurşit Yavaş, a known drug dealer who served time in British and Italian jails. In 1988, Yavaş set up a coach firm called Star Turizm to launder money earned from drug trafficking and named Öztürk as his partner on business registration papers although Öztürk had no money invested in the firm. When drug baron Yavaş was arrested in Italy in 1994, convicted and sentenced to prison time there, Öztürk seized the opportunity and orchestrated the transfer of his assets in the bus firm to himself and consolidated his gains under the Metro tourism company, a firm he set up in 1992.

The two had a falling out and clashed over business interests. The feud between them continued when Yavaş was handed over to Turkey by Italy in 2007 after he had served his time. Both were under police surveillance, and Turkish prosecutors were looking into organized crime activities that the two were involved in. Yavaş was arrested in January 2010 over drugs destined for the Netherlands and sentenced to 12 years, six months in jail after his trial concluded in March 2013.

When Öztürk was questioned by investigators with respect to twin murders that were committed in 1996 by a hitman named Yakup Yazıcı, the Metro owner was detained by the police. During the investigation, Yazıcı admitted to the police in April 2003 that he had committed the murders after he was ordered to do so by Öztürk. Although the investigation was expanded into his organized crime syndicate, Öztürk was surprisingly let go after his detention. He fled Turkey and moved to the United States on a fake passport and assumed name, married there and even set up a company. Upon his return, Öztürk continued his illegal business dealings and in April 2009 was detained for manipulation and insider trading in his meat and food business, Van Et Ticari Yatırımlar Gıda Sanayi Ticaret A.Ş., on the Istanbul stock exchange. He was let go again after big brother intervened. At the end of 2009, he was detained again, this time on charges of extortion for forcing a businessman to assume a debt in the amount of TL 2 million under threat. He was released again.

He was detained and formally arrested on Feb. 29, 2012 pending trial after a comprehensive investigation into his crime enterprise was completed. He was sent to Metris Prison in Istanbul. The prosecutor who indicted him on multiple counts in a long list of charges asked the court to sentence him to up to 145 years. The indictment revealed how he set up a broad network of corruption that involved judges, prosecutors, top bureaucrats, members of parliament and senior officials in the police department. In fact, when he was detained, he was trying to flee to Bulgaria by land upon learning about the secret probe in advance through his contacts in the government. In fact, he was alerted to a pending police raid by Mustafa Baş, a lawmaker from Erdoğan’s party.

For example, the wiretap records that were included in the indictment revealed that Öztürk cultivated very close ties with Mehmet Ağar, Erdoğan’s close ally and former police chief who currently runs the main law enforcement agency in Turkey behind the scenes. One of dozens of firms owned by Öztürk was listed as Metro Altın İşletmeciliği A.Ş., a gold mining company that has prospects in the Karşıyaka district of western Izmir province. He was having problems obtaining a licence to extract the gold and called Ağar on Nov. 6, 2011 to ask him to solve the problem. It is quite interesting that Ağar, who was imprisoned at the time in the town of Yenipazar in the western province Aydın, was freely communicating with an organized crime boss while he was supposed to be behind bars. Ağar was serving a five-year sentence for his role in another organized crime syndicate from 1996. A month after this phone conversation, the Izmir Governor’s Office approved the gold mining license for Öztürk.

He had other government officials on the take as well. The evidence showed that Abdulkerim Emek, a deputy undersecretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, helped the organized crime network when he was deputy chairman of the Capital Markets Board (SPK). He was passing insider information to Öztürk and protecting him from SPK investigators. After the evidence was revealed to the public, Emek resigned from his post in the government and took a job as the CEO and deputy chairman of the board of directors of Metro Holding. Another charge against him was listed as bribing Hüseyin Koray, the general secretary of the Council of State, the top administrative court in Turkey. He had close ties to two members of Parliament, Mustafa Baş and Mehmet Mustafa Açıkalın, both from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP.

Although two serious legal proceedings were underway against him, Öztürk was released pending trial on April 18, 2012. He fled Turkey before the court proceedings were finalized. On Nov. 15, 2012 he was convicted by the Beykoz 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance to serve 11 years, three months in jail on multiple charges. Moreover, the Istanbul 19th High Criminal Court sentenced him to life in prison on Oct. 18, 2012 on murder charges. Both convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals.

With the judiciary fully subordinated to his rule in the aftermath of a false flag coup attempt that Erdoğan orchestrated in July 2016 in order to launch a mass purge of government officials including thousands of judges and prosecutors, the Turkish president lent a hand to Öztürk to whitewash his criminal record. The Istanbul 20th High Criminal Court ruled on Oct. 11, 2016 that the execution of the life sentence in Öztürk’s conviction of premeditated murder must be halted. Likewise, the Beykoz court also suspended the conviction on Aug. 18, 2016. In the end, on Sept. 17, 2018, the Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court ordered a retrial in Öztürk’s organized crime case. When all convictions were suspended and the outstanding arrest warrants against him were lifted, Öztürk returned to Turkey from Georgia, where he was living as a fugitive. While he was in Georgia and on the run from the law, he was in close contact with the Turkish Embassy in Tbilisi, where he invested in the gambling, casino and hotel industries.

While Erdoğan saved this thug from the criminal justice system, veteran Turkish prosecutor Muammer Akkaş, who filed the 429-page indictment against him, was punished by dismissal from his position. Akkaş was also the prosecutor who led a major corruption investigation that incriminated Erdoğan’s son Bilal along with dozens of accomplices including Yasin Al-Qadi, at one time listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the UN and designated as such by the US Treasury. Following the public revelation of the corruption probe on Dec. 25, 2013. Erdoğan initially orchestrated his reassignment and later had him disbarred. Akkaş, a prosecutor who had been hunting real criminals like Öztürk his entire life, was later indicted on fabricated charges by Erdoğan’s partisan operatives in the judiciary.

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