A former confidant of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed the details of a $1 billion corruption scheme involving a 2007 tender, implicating the then-prime minister and current president and other key political figures in the scandal, in a shocking video released by journalist Cevheri Güven on Friday.
Ali Yeşildağ, a former associate of Erdoğan and a member of the influential Yeşildağ family, claimed that he and Ali İhsan Arslan, also known as Mücahit Arslan, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2015, were key figures in a criminal organization that helped Erdoğan profit by manipulating a tender for the operating rights of Antalya Airport. In the video Yeşildağ shared how the operation was taken over from Çelebi Holding through a series of crimes and tricks, with the contract ultimately awarded to businessman İbrahim Çeçen.
According to Yeşildağ, Çelebi Holding was prepared to bid up to $5 billion for Antalya Airport, but its tender documents were stolen, which resulted in the company being excluded from the bidding. The specifications of the tender were detailed and the bureaucracy justified the disqualification of Çelebi Holding.
The contract was then awarded to İbrahim Çeçen for $3 billion, with Erdoğan allegedly pocketing the $1 billion in the process
“The biggest characteristic of Tayyip Abi [Erdoğan] is that he steals your money and then makes you applaud him,” Yeşildağ said in the video.
“So far, two people have released videos and made revelations about Erdoğan’s corruption and crimes. One is Sedat Peker, and the other is Muhammed Yakut. Both are known mafia leaders in Turkey. They are people Erdoğan used for a while and then got into conflicts of interest with,” investigative journalist Güven, who posted the video on his YouTube channel, told Turkish Minute.
Peker and Yakut have both made revelations about Erdoğan’s alleged corruption and crimes. Peker is a mafia boss living in exile in the United Arab Emirates, while Yakut, a Kurdish businessman, has been exposing alleged links between AKP figures and shady businesses, black money, mafia schemes and the murky background of a 2016 coup attempt on his YouTube channel, which was recently blocked by Turkish authorities. Many believe the failed coup was a false-flag aimed at entrenching the authoritarian rule of President Erdoğan by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his quest for absolute power.
“Ali Yeşildağ, however, is different from these two people. Ali Yeşildağ is a member of the Yeşildağ family. Erdoğan and the Yeşildağ family have a 40-year relationship. When Erdoğan was arrested and jailed in 1999, Hasan Yeşildağ, the eldest of the Yeşildağ brothers, went to prison with Erdoğan for a minor offense and, in his own words, served as Erdoğan’s bodyguard in prison. The Yapı Yapı company, in which the Yeşildağ family has a share, is now worth several billion dollars, a fortune made during the Erdoğan era. Etiler Ulus Cafe, owned by the Yeşildağ family, with its exquisite view of the Bosporus, is an important meeting place for the AKP government and state bureaucracy, including members of the Erdoğan family,” Güven said.
Ali Yeşildağ and his two older brothers, Hasan and Zeki Yeşildağ, have been on the public agenda for a long time. Hasan Yeşildağ was allegedly involved in the assassination of Abdi İpekçi and has been exposed for a series of crimes by Peker.
“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that members of the government are more likely to make important decisions at the Ulus cafe rather than at a Cabinet meeting,” he added.
According to the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International, Turkey has fallen to 101st place among 180 countries, with a score of 36 out of 100, which is the lowest in the past 10 years. The score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 to 100.
Transparency International’s study shows that Turkey’s backsliding started in late 2013 when two corruption investigations implicated then-prime minister and current president Erdoğan’s inner circle, which the government subsequently suppressed.
However, Yeşildağ’s allegations are unique, as they show corrupt practices go as far back as 2007, when the country was on track to become an EU member state and the rule of law, albeit flawed, was in place.
The release of the video comes at a critical time, with presidential and parliamentary elections set to take place on May 14. These allegations could impact the outcome of the elections, as Erdoğan’s administration faces increased scrutiny amid an economic crisis and high inflation.
The Turkish government has not yet issued an official response to the allegations made by Ali Yeşildağ.
According to Güven, this is the first of seven videos in which Yeşildağ will make revelations, to be released until the elections on May 14.
Güven is a Turkish journalist who lives in exile in Germany and is on Erdoğan’s wanted list. His videos on YouTube, in which he talks about the Turkish government’s corruption and shady relations, attract millions of viewers.