Mob boss steers Turkey’s political debate

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Cevheri Güven

Sedat Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups, has for the last 10 days been setting the country’s political agenda through videos he’s released on YouTube. The videos reach over a million viewers in the first day of their release. Peker, who lives in Dubai and has an outstanding warrant for him in Turkey, has been making striking revelations about state-mafia relations and drug trafficking and murders implicating state officials.

Arrested in 2004 on charges of leading a criminal organization, Peker was behind bars until 2014. Although he was supposed to remain in prison longer, a clash between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the faith-based Gülen movement, which had until then been his strongest ally, secured his release amid Erdoğan’s search for new allies against the movement and due to Peker’s past record of collaboration with the state.

After he was set free Peker began targeting anyone opposed to Erdoğan, which led to physical assaults on journalists and politicians. For years Peker received Erdoğan’s support as he continued to make statements full of threats of violence such as hanging Gülen movement followers on lampposts and bathing in the blood of a group of academics who drew the authorities’ ire for signing a joint declaration calling for a peaceful settlement of the country’s Kurdish conflict, instead of through military means. He even held rallies in several cities to raise support for Erdoğan’s rule, and he became an opinion leader to be consulted on issues for the pro-Erdoğan mainstream media.

Things took an unforeseen turn after Peker got into a dispute with Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law and then-finance minister. Upon learning of a criminal investigation into him and his network, Peker fled to Montenegro in February 2020. After shuttling for a while among Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, Peker then moved to Morocco and later to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates following a Red Notice request that Turkey filed with Interpol.

Trusting that the diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the UAE would prevent his extradition, Peker began releasing videos last week in which he shared his knowledge of the obscure web of relations in Turkey’s recent history. He has thus far published three videos, and he pledged to release as many as 12.

His first target was Mehmet Ağar, a right-wing figure who was at the helm of the police and the Interior Ministry in the 1990s, when Turkey used violent methods to quell the unrest in predominantly Kurdish provinces. Ağar’s time in office is known for a number of unsolved murders of Kurds, widely suspected of having been perpetrated by state actors. After explaining Ağar’s position vis-à-vis the “deep state,” Peker went on to give details on his cocaine trafficking. According to Peker, Ağar was involved with a five-ton cocaine shipment that was seized last year in Colombia on a ship bound for Turkey. Although Colombian police communicated to Turkey details on the port of destination and the recipients, Turkish authorities did not act on it, protecting the firm involved and covering up the alleged crime.

While Ağar left the Interior Ministry a long time ago, he is believed to maintain considerable influence over the Turkish police network, with ingroups tied to him moving in sync and acting under Erdoğan’s control for the last six years. They are also believed to have taken over all key posts within the police. That’s why Peker has described Ağar as Erdoğan’s “coalition partner.” Ağar’s son, Tolga Ağar, is an MP for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the party’s coordinator for the Marmara region.

According to Peker, Tolga Ağar was responsible for the alleged rape and murder in Turkey of Kazakh university student Yeldana Kaharman, whose death was recorded as a suicide. Peker claimed that police officers close to Mehmet Ağar covered up his son’s crime.

Peker also said Ağar extorted Bodrum Yalıkavak Marina, a billion-dollar-worth luxury marina, from Turkish-Azeri shipping magnate Mübariz Mansimov Gurbanoğlu, who was suddenly arrested in March 2020 on terrorism-related charges. During the eight months he spent in jail, the marina’s ownership was transferred to Tolga Ağar and other individuals close to him. Peker explained that the transfer was made due to pressure by the police and the mafia.

While Peker also touched on incidents of murder allegedly committed by Ağar-linked police officers, he refrained from going into detail and confined himself to broad statements.

Opposition says Peker’s statements indicative of decay

Drawing millions of views on YouTube, Peker’s statements have also had an impact on politics.

Meral Akşener, leader of opposition Good (İYİ) Party, said the videos revealed widespread decay caused by the ruling party.

“The allegations are extremely serious. What has been revealed is a complete disgrace. These intertwined relations, especially the cocaine issue..” Akşener said.

Ali Babacan, head of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said the statements were reminiscent of the 1990s.

“Look at the allegations and the conflicts in the three videos. It is a real pity. It’s also a shame that no action has been taken based on the revelations,” Babacan said. “The president bears the ultimate responsibility. Journalists and politicians have been violently assaulted in the street. I have never seen the president utter a word about it. It is in circumstances like this that a state shows what it is.”

Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the videos prove that the state is not managed but rather was handed over to mafia groups.

While pro-Erdoğan mainstream media outlets have ignored Peker’s remarks, the videos have become a sensation on not only YouTube but also on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which Turks use extensively to discuss political issues.

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