Last week, we disclosed the improper enrichment of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by receiving a $25 million oil tanker as a gift from an Azerbaijani billionaire. This week, we expose the Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim, who turns out to be just as corrupt as his boss.
Craig Shaw and Zeynep Sentek revealed in their article posted on the website theblacksea.eu, based on a report by the European Investigative Collaborations’ (EIC) Malta Files, that the Yildirim family owns shipping and other foreign assets worth $140 million.
In 2009, when Yildirim was Minister of Transport and Maritime, he told a gathering of large ship owners in Istanbul: “From now on any Turkish businesses owning ships, yachts or sea vessels that flew foreign flags would be ‘treated with suspicion’ by the government.” Yildirim gave the ship owners three months to change the registration of their vessels. Yildirim added, “Now they have no excuse. If they insist on not changing to the Turkish flag, we don’t see that [they have any] good intentions.” The Minister was apparently promoting the creation of a strong, national shipping fleet which would pay taxes to Turkey.
Ironically, sitting just a few feet away from Yildirim during the speech was his 30-year-old son Erkam who was “the registered owner of at least one general cargo ship called the ‘City,’ through the family’s offshore company in the Netherlands Antilles. This freighter flew not the Turkish flag, but that of the Dutch Caribbean Islands,” according to EIC investigators.
Since then, EIC reported the Yildirim family owned 11 foreign-flagged ships registered “in a network of secretive companies in Malta, the Netherlands, and the Netherlands Antilles — specifically now Curacao, with more suspected in the Marshall Islands and Panama.”
In addition, theblacksea.eu revealed that “Yildirim’s son, daughter, uncle and nephews have purchased seven properties in the Netherlands, worth over $2.5 million — all of which were paid in cash.”
Yildirim started his career in shipping in 1994 when he managed Istanbul’s Fast Ferries Company (IDO), owned by the city. However, he was fired in 2000 over revelations he awarded a contract to manage the ferries’ canteens to his uncle, Yilmaz Erence,” according to Shaw and Sentek.
Yilmaz is the same uncle who registered the Turkish company, Tulip Maritime Limited, in Malta in 1998. Yilamz’s partners were: “Salih Zeki Cakir, a known ship-owner who briefly employed Yildirim, Ahmet Ergun, President Erdogan’s advisor from his days as Istanbul Mayor, as well as a former MP [Member of Parliament] and high court judge, Abbas Gokce,” according to Shaw and Sentek.
The Black Sea and EIC reported that six of the 11 ships owned by the Yildirim family—“worth between 1.9 million and 33 million Euro — appear to have been bought without any bank loans. If so, this suggests an enormous cache of funds exists in the Dutch operation, despite on paper being a money-losing business.”
On June 9, 2016, two weeks after President Erdogan appointed Yildirim as Prime Minister, he acquired four new shipping companies registered in Malta. The director of these companies is Suleyman Vural, Yildirim’s nephew. Two of these companies, linked to a business in Istanbul, were set up in 2015 by uncle Yilmaz and his son, Rifat Emrah Erence.
Yildirim’s son, Erkam, also owns extensive businesses in the Netherlands, including “modest properties and expensive ships,” according to Shaw and Sentek. EIC reported that the Yildirim family owns a company called Castillo Real Estate BV, based in Almere, the Netherlands, where houses a dental clinic in a building owned by the son of the Prime Minister. Next door to the dentist are the offices of Castillo Real Estate and Zealand Shipping — two of the family’s major companies.
In addition to these two buildings, Castillo owns four properties in the Netherlands: an apartment building in Schoonhoven, two houses in Utrecht, and a shoemaker’s shop in The Hague. These six properties, valued over 2.16 million euros, were all paid in cash. A seventh property in Almere was purchased personally by Erkam for Zealand Shipping’s manager.
The Yildirim family’s biggest assets in the Netherlands—worth $129.8 million—were established in 2007 by Erkam under the name of Zealand Shipping until 2014, when it was bought by Holland Investments Cooperatif UA, also owned by Erkam. In addition, the Yildirim family “owns 30% of Q-Shipping BV based in Barendrecht. The partner in this venture is Abdulvahit Simsek, a Turkish businessman who shares an office with the Yildirims in Istanbul…. Q-shipping BV and its subsidiaries manage 20 ships—none of which sail under a Turkish flag,” according to Shaw and Sentek.
Until a year ago, New Zealand Shipping owned 10 ships flying the Dutch flag, two of which were sold to “a Turkish conglomerate close to the Erdogan government, Kolin Group,” according to Shaw and Sentek. They summarize the “Foreign Wealth of the Turkish Prime Minister’s Family” as follows:
- 18 ships (Dutch conglomerates, fully or partly owned)
- 1 ship (Netherlands Antilles company)
- 4 Malta companies
- 7 properties in the Netherlands
- 8 ships in the Netherlands
- 3 ships in Malta
- Total estimated assets: $140 million.
Shaw and Sentek conclude their article by noting that “after Turkey’s constitutional referendum which granted President Erdogan the power to destroy the Prime Ministry in two years, Yildirim’s tenure at the top is coming to an end. But in the nearly 20 years since he ‘transferred his businesses’ to his children, they have created a soft cushion for him to land upon when he leaves politics for good!”