The Turkish government has submitted an official request to extradite from Austria a Turkish businessman involved in a money-laundering scheme in the United States and accused of involvement in large-scale corruption in Turkey, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.
Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, who was arrested in Austria on a US warrant over the weekend, fled Turkey in December 2020. He is sought both by Turkey and the US.
DW cited Turkish Ambassador in Vienna Ozan Ceyhun as saying that Turkey on June 19 took the second official step of preparing the necessary documents and handing them over to the Austrian authorities to secure the extradition of Korkmaz, following the first step of requesting it.
“The Justice Ministry sent us the relevant files through the [Foreign] Ministry, and we submitted them to the Austrian authorities. Turkey completed all the official steps it needed to take [to request Korkmaz’s extradition],” Ceyhun said.
He added that Korkmaz on Monday stated before an Austrian court his wish, formerly announced by his lawyer Volkan Dülger, to stand trial in Turkey, where he is not likely to serve any jail time, rather than in the US, where he probably will be given a prison sentence.
Dülger previously explained that a person gets a prison sentence of between three and seven years on money laundering charges in Turkey and does not go to jail for certain types of crimes requiring a sentence of up to six years. However, this offense requires a longer prison sentence in the US. The lawyer also noted that the Austrian court will decide whether Korkmaz will be tried in the US or Turkey.
According to a statement on Monday posted by the US Department of Justice, Korkmaz is charged with conspiring to commit money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding and if convicted, faces a maximum penalty of 225 years.
Korkmaz is accused of laundering over $133 million in fraud proceeds through his bank accounts, according to the US indictment against him, which refers to his ties to Jacob Kingston, Isaiah Kingston and Levon Termendzhyan and alleges that he devised a scheme to defraud the Kingston brothers by falsely representing that he could provide them with protection, through unnamed government officials, from a federal grand jury investigation and civil lawsuits.
Korkmaz was business partners with the Kingstons, the executives of a Salt Lake City biodiesel company who pleaded guilty in US federal court to a $511 million tax credit scheme in March 2020.
Meanwhile, Korkmaz answered questions sent to him by journalist İsmail Saymaz, denying the charges against him as well as the claims that he gave up during his interrogation in the US the names of bureaucrats and journalists he had bribed in Turkey.
“I didn’t bribe any bureaucrats or journalists. Everything written about me [in the media] is a lie since they haven’t interrogated me [in the US],” Saymaz quoted Korkmaz as saying.
When asked about speculation that he would be the next Reza Zarrab, the businessman strongly denied the possibility, emphasizing that he is a Turkish citizen who is loyal to his country.
Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was at the center of a December 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey that almost brought down then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, was arrested in the US in March 2016 for conspiring to evade US sanctions against Iran. He accepted a plea deal and agreed to become a government witness.