Terror charges dropped against businessman after visit by Turkish ambassador, journalist says

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A Turkish journalist has revealed that terrorism charges against Yalçın Ayaslı, a businessman with investments in Turkey and the US, were dropped in July, a month after he was visited by the Turkish Ambassador to the US Murat Mercan in Concord, Massachusetts.

Barış Pehlivan on Thursday said in a column in the Cumhuriyet daily that the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which launched an investigation into Ayaslı in 2018 on charges that include “membership in a terrorist organization,” decided on July 12 to drop the charges against the businessman due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Ayaslı, who was accused of links to the Gülen movement –- inspired by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and labeled as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government –- and for whom an arrest warrant had been issued in Turkey, was visited by Mercan on June 11.

The visit had been debated in Turkey since it was the first time a senior bureaucrat had officially visited someone who was accused of links to the Gülen movement and for its surprising timing, which came just before the first meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Joe Biden on June 14.

Ayaslı had filed a lawsuit in the United States in 2019 claiming that Turkish businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, who accused him of links to the Gülen movement, had taken over his airline, Borajet, by extortion and money laundering with support from certain politicians.

Ayaslı argued in the legal action brought against Korkmaz that Ekim Alptekin, head of the Turkey-US Business Council, acted as a facilitator in the US on behalf of the Erdoğan government, collaborated with certain journalists and launched a media lynching against him in Turkish outlets, which published news stories labeling him as a terrorist and coup perpetrator, that these media stories served to devalue his company, Borajet, and that Korkmaz eventually acquired its shares for a small sum.

Korkmaz, who was involved in a money-laundering scheme in the US and accused of involvement in large-scale corruption in Turkey, was arrested in Austria in late June on a US warrant. It turned out that Korkmaz had also defrauded the US Treasury and illegally transferred tens of millions of dollars to Turkey.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding.

Although both Gülen and the members of his group strongly deny any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity, some 282,790 people have been detained and 94,975 have been arrested in Turkey while 25,912 people are currently behind bars over links to the movement, according to the latest official data.

The assets of thousands of businessmen with links to the group also have been confiscated in the process. According to London Advocacy, assets in excess of $32 billion have been confiscated and transferred to pro-government businessmen.

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