Convicted Crime Lord Exposes State – Mafia Relations in Turkey
Sliding in opinion polls amid a severe economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is looking unusually embattled these days. And now his administration has been hit by a roiling corruption scandal that some say has a fin de siècle aura about it.
Even as the Israeli bombing of Gaza has filled their television screens over the past week, millions of Turks have been turning to YouTube to hear the latest extraordinary claims of a convicted organized crime boss, Sedat Peker, who is living in exile. In a series of videos over two weeks, Mr. Peker, who was found guilty in 2007 of organized criminal activity and is wanted again by the Turkish police, has flung accusations of rape, drug dealing and suspicious deaths against officials close to Mr. Erdogan.
Mr. Peker’s first accusation appeared aimed at the Pelikan group, a clique centered around Berat Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law and a former finance minister; and Mehmet Agar, a disgraced former interior minister. But soon, his main target became Suleyman Soylu, the powerful and ambitious interior minister.
“Do not doubt, I will teach some tyrants that there is no more dangerous weapon than a man who dares to die,” Mr. Peker said on Twitter, advertising the third video. “Deep Statists, Pelikanists, you will be defeated by a camera on a tripod,” he added.
The Interior Ministry, which raided Mr. Peker’s home in Istanbul in April as part of a broad investigation into his criminal network, has rejected his claims and said that it would continue its fight against organized crime. Mr. Soylu filed a criminal complaint on Monday against Mr. Peker over the accusations.
Undeterred, and speaking in a colloquial, devil-may-care manner, Mr. Peker released his fifth monologue on Sunday, mixing calculated revelations with the threat of further disclosures. He has been careful to avoid any direct accusations against Mr. Erdogan. But his descriptions of bitter infighting among rival groups around the president and of murky links between senior officials and the mob are nevertheless extremely damaging.
Sensing weakness at the helm, Mr. Erdogan’s political opponents have been quick to demand an investigation into Mr. Peker’s allegations. They have also drawn parallels to a damaging political scandal in the 1990s that revealed the deep ties between organized crime and the Turkish government.
“Every day a different Pandora’s box is being opened,” Ahmet Davutoglu, a former prime minister who fell out with Mr. Erdogan and set up the opposition Future Party, said in a statement this month.
“As seen in all longstanding governments that are coming to an end, there is infighting within the government,” Mr. Davutoglu added. “As the end of the tunnel is visible now, everyone is trying to secure the most powerful protection possible before reaching the end.”
Mr. Erdogan had no doubt expected the 2020s to be an era of crowning personal achievements that would raise him to the pantheon of Turkish leaders. A presidential system put in place in 2018 gave him overarching powers that he envisioned deploying to assure his re-election in time for the grand celebration of 100 years of the republic in 2023, making him the longest-serving leader of modern Turkey.
But things are looking increasingly difficult.
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