Turkish Polity and the Mafia – Hands in Glove?

In a startling revelation on his YouTube channel, Sedat Peker, 49, a drug lord originally from Turkey but now living in exile in Dubai, exposed the well entrenched nexus between Turkish politicians and the mafia, both within and outside the country. His YouTube channel has so far released eight videos accusing the country’s former and current Interior Ministers and other big shots in the Turkish government of having links in grave crimes including murder plots, rape, arms and drug trafficking. He has mentioned that four more videos will be released shortly in the coming weeks, highlighting the ‘deep state’ collusion between Turkey’s underworld and its prominent politicians.

Going by the seriousness of the allegations, these videos became a rage, going viral amidst the country’s youth leading to a sharp decline in President Erdogan’s popularity, a fall in the Turkish currency and impacting an already ailing economy. As reported in the Turkish media, a survey that was conducted by the Yoneylem Social Research Centre recently showed that more than 52% Turkish citizens found these allegations to be true and acknowledged their politicians to be corrupt. Moreover, a staggering 69% participants agreed that the “politics-mafia relation is continuing like it did in the past”. Another polling company Avrasya, while presenting its data for the past week showed that 75% Turks believed in the truthfulness of Peker’s revelations.

Turkey’s opposition parties are now demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and calling for investigations into the released videos. Despite the clamour for a full fledged investigation, a parliamentary motion calling for investigation was voted down (May 26) against the corruption charges leveled against top government officials, political class and the unsolved murder cases of Kurdish business persons and journalists.

In his videos, Sedat Peker exposed the resilient politico-mafia bond existing in the country since the 1990s and the usage of right-wing death squads against the Turkish Government’s adversaries. Peker had earlier served several prison terms for charges involving crimes such as murder, economic offences including establishing a criminal organization. Later, in 2014, he turned to being a business executive with the backing of the ruling party and became a staunch government supporter rallying behind President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Since then he is known to have carried out various criminal acts on behalf of the powerful ruling figures. One of his YouTube videos even reveals key details about Tolga Agar (an AKP lawmaker) having raped a female journalist two years ago and later killing her. The murder, however, was deliberately reported as suicide. In another video, he discloses details about men working for him having received orders from a politician for attacking offices of Hurriyet, a Turkish newspaper in 2015, for reportedly not towing the government’s line.

In his seventh video, Peker divulged details stating that the son of former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, named Erkan Yildirim, was involved in trafficking cocaine from Venezuela to Turkey, following a seizure of 4.9 tons cocaine in Colombia’s coastal city of Buenaventura last June. Peker claimed that Yildirim travelled on two four-day visits to Venezuela in January and February 2021 to establish a new route for smuggling cocaine into Turkey. Turkey largely, only serves as a transit point for South American cocaine being smuggled into Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Cocaine after arriving into Turkey is transferred in yachts to Yalikavak Marina in the port city of Bodrum (South-West Turkey), which is controlled by former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar. It is widely believed that cargo carrying scrap metal being shipped from Venezuela continues to ferry cocaine into Turkey.

While refuting these claims, Yildirim, a close ally of President Erdogan, confirmed his son’s travel to Venezuela but elaborated that these trips were meant only to distribute items such as surgical masks and to bring medical supplies into Turkey to help the country combat the deadly COVID-19 virus. This is bizarre for a country like Turkey, which being a close ally of nations like Russia and China has been receiving medical supplies and vaccines from them and other nations too. Further, as reported in the local media, Turkish customs officials confirmed that there is no data regarding any medical equipment leaving the country or being received on the dates mentioned by Yildirim. Against this backdrop, it is significant to state that a 2019 report by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction has stated that the Turkish organized crime groups are increasingly setting up their own operations to transport cocaine directly from South America to Europe.

Finally, in his sensational eighth YouTube video, Peker accused the country’s ruling party of conspiracy with a paramilitary company named Sadat for sending arms and weapons to Al-Qaeda linked group Al-Nusra Front (HTS – Hayat Tahrir Al-Sahm) militants in Syria. Sadat was reportedly formed in 2012 by a retired general and 23 other officers expelled from armed forces due to their allegiance to Islamist organizations. The company also allegedly played a vital role in recruiting and providing training to militants during the Syrian and Libyan civil wars. From the information revealed in this video, it appears that the Turkish government had itself created this group to facilitate its arm trade with militant organizations and to promote its agenda in the region. The money trail of these deals could possibly be never traced back to the Turkish authorities as it involved money laundering through hawala channels and a robust clandestine network of criminals put in place with the help of Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.

Not just organized crime, in the realm of targeted killings too, Peker disclosed the murder of investigative journalist Kutlu Adali in July 1996 by his own brother Atilla Peker, since the former was writing about an armed robbery involving millions of dollars of icons in the Saint Barnabas Monastery in Famagusta at the behest of Turkish authorities. So ingrained is this nexus between politicians, government officials and the mafia that Kortut Eken, a senior intelligence officer, actually connived to assassinate Adali and even travelled all the way to Cyprus along with Atilla in this connection. Eken along with the then Interior Minister and the Police Chief Mehmet Agar were in fact accused of more than 18 extrajudicial killings which allegedly occurred during their term. Another renowned journalist Ugur Mumcu was also reportedly killed during this time. Much later, in March 2005, even the European Court of Human Rights seems to have acknowledged the role of the politician-mafia complicity and stated that Ankara had not conducted a proper investigation into the murder of journalist Adali.

Against this backdrop of the release of Peker’s videos on YouTube, former Minister of Justice and Speaker of Parliament, Cemil Cicek averred that even “If one thousandth of what Peker says turns out to be true, this is already a disaster for the country”. At a time when Turkey under President Erdogan is vying to be the leader of the Islamic world it remains to be seen whether while seeking a voice for himself on the global stage, President Erdogan gives space to the voice of dissent in his own country and appropriately orders an investigation into Peker’s videos and the nature of details revealed by him in the interest of transparency and justice for Turkey’s citizens.