New recording shows PM’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, involved in $35 million island deal

A new audio recording purported to be of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan discussing the purchase of several islands in the Aegean Sea off Çanakkale for $35 million has been posted on YouTube by Twitter account holder Haramzadeler.
According to Today’s Zaman which refers to the recording, Bilal allegedly planned to buy four islands, located between Gökçeada and Bozcaada, for the purpose of later selling them to a Qatari company for the construction of wind power plants. In one of the conversations, Bilal is heard talking to a person, whose name in a text accompanying the clip is said to be Ahmet Murat Yelkenciler, his former schoolmate, asking him to check the prices of the islands.

One of the islands is relatively bigger than the others at 900,000 square meters while the other three are about 50,000 square meters each, Yelkenciler told Bilal. These islands have a zoning scheme defined only for tourism investments on 45 percent of their total spatial areas. Yelkenciler informed Bilal that the value of the islands will be around $35 million in total, $15 million to be paid in advance with the rest in installments.

The videos are from an investigation into corruption and bribery, said Haramzadeler, noting that they will release these recordings and documents one by one in the face of the government’s alleged move to stifle the graft probe and get rid of the evidence collected by the prosecutor of the case after a surveillance of one-and-a-half years.

In another investigation, made public on Dec. 17, the police detained 52 people including businessmen, the sons of three former ministers and several bureaucrats, all known to have close relationships with the government. A court arrested 24 of the suspects and imprisoned them. They were all subsequently released.

The leaked recording also revealed that construction company Bosporus 360, whose silent partners are reportedly Bilal and Saudi Arabian businessman Yasin al-Qadi, who is on the list of US Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” was also involved in the deal.

The clip also suggested that al-Qadi’s representative, Usame Kutub, is involved in the deal but doesn’t provide any further details as to what his role is. It is inferred in the audio recording that there are deliberations to change the zoning plans to allow the construction of wind turbines there since it would be impossible under the current zoning plans, which does not allow any structures other than tourist facilities to be built on the islands.

Previous leaks had revealed that Prime Minister Erdoğan had helped a businessman build villas on a plot of land in İzmir’s Urla district by ordering the easing of zoning restrictions there.

In the first conversation, Bilal discusses with his friend taking a trip to the islands to survey the land. They make plans to leave early in the morning and return before nightfall. In the second clip, Bilal thanks Yelkenciler for a “well-prepared” file about the project planned to be constructed on the island. He said he will send the file to the “other friends,” which prosecutors inferred to be the partners of Bosporus360.

The third conversation starts with Yelkenciler telling Bilal about his recent discussion with someone called Mevlüt about the actual measurement of wind speeds. The measurements found that the location is suitable for even the largest wind turbine systems, which Yelkenciler says to be “something 9.2, he said, but I didn’t understand.” Bilal stresses the importance of these numbers since the Qatari investors are interested in all the details.

Haramzadeler also leaked some legally intercepted phone conversations between two businessmen concerning the sale process of the Akşam daily and the Skytürk360 TV channel. This recording reveals that Prime Minister Erdoğan had ordered Ethem Sancak, the owner of Sancak Holding, to acquire the embattled media outlets, which were confiscated by the Savings Deposits Insurance Fund (TMSF) after previous owner Mehmet Emin Karamehmet defaulted on his debt to the institution.

The sale was announced to the public on November of 2013 in a statement that said Sancak had paid $62 million in the deal.

In previously leaked recordings, Erdoğan’s direct involvement in the sale of the Turkuaz Media Group, which includes Sabah and ATV, had also been exposed. The allegations were brought to Parliament’s agenda by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the form of motions.

The new recordings purportedly revealed that Erdoğan had first assigned businessman Mehmet Cengiz for the acquisition. But Cengiz had reportedly divulged the assignment to others, infuriating Erdoğan who allegedly discharged Cengiz and asked Sancak to conclude the purchase.

Sancak is heard in one of the tapped phone conversations having a discussion with Fatih Saraç, the deputy chairman of the Ciner Group, whose name has been on the agenda in recent weeks over his talks with a furious Erdoğan about some anti-government remarks on Habertürk TV and the Habertürk daily.

The two chatted about Skytürk360 and Sancak told Saraç these media outlets “will likely fall to my share.” Sancak also told Saraç that tenders are usually handed to certain businessmen.

In another conversation, Sancak is heard complaining to Cengiz about inheriting a wreck with the acquisition of the media group.

Cengiz was recorded in another conversation talking to a businessman, purported to be Cemil Kazancı, about receiving a dressing down from Erdoğan. He said the prime minister berated him so harshly that he started smoking again from the stress. “I have never been scolded like this in my life. He reamed me out,” Cengiz said.

A group of 150 people staged a demonstration in Ankara to protest the latest leaked conversations. Gathering in Güvenpark, the group unfurled banners and marched towards Sakarya Avenue shouting slogans. There they issued a press statement.

The protesters rejected Erdoğan’s defense on the grounds that the recordings were doctored and said Erdoğan actually confessed that these conversations did in fact took place when he said during a party group meeting that his conversations on encrypted phones had also been also tapped. “If you are a brave man, release the original, unedited versions of these talks. If they are a montage, prove it. Let Turkey learn the truth,” a statement read out by the protesters said.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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