Another Major Erdogan Corruption Scandal; This Time on US Soil

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: The Kremlin)

Not a week passes without the disclosure of another major scandal in Azerbaijan or Turkey. The latest such scandal was exposed by the Stockholm Center for Freedom in an article written by exiled Turkish writer Abdullah Bozkurt, titled: “Utah case exposes more dirt on Turkey’s Erdogan.”

The article reveals that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s corrupt tentacles reach into the United States, which makes the subject of this scandal of particular interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in connection with his Russia probe and “international organized crime network,” according to Bozkurt.

“A federal grand jury in Utah returned a sealed indictment on Aug. 1, 2018, naming Erdogan as the leader of a foreign country who met with highly controversial businesspeople in California and Utah in what was claimed to be a major money laundering and tax fraud case,” Bozkurt reported.

The indictment, unsealed on Aug. 24, 2018, charged that “Jacob Ortell Kingston, the chief executive officer, and Isaiah Kingston, the chief financial officer of Washakie Renewable Energy (WRE), by filing false claims for tax credits, obtained over $511 million in renewable fuel tax credits that were designed to increase the amount of renewable fuel used and produced in the US. Lev Aslan Dermen (Levon Termendzhyan), owner of California-based fuel company NOIL Energy Group with links to a transnational criminal enterprise, is also identified as a partner in this grand scheme. From 2010 through 2016, they fabricated documents and rotated products within the US as well as overseas to make it appear that they were engaging in real trade to qualify for the tax credits,” Bozkurt wrote.

The indictment stated that Jacob Kingston was arrested on Aug. 23, 2018, while on his way to Salt Lake City international airport headed to Turkey after he was tipped off. Bozkurt reported: “The Kingstons had already bought a luxury mansion in a seaside town in Turkey according to a wire transfer from a WRE account to Termendzhyan’s account at Turkey’s Garanti Bank on March 5, 2014. More wire transfers to Turkey were listed in the indictment. Jacob Kingston, who frequently traveled to Turkey to meet with top Turkish officials including Erdoğan, was often greeted like a VIP at the Turkish airport, was provided a police escort and did not even use his passport to enter Turkey according to witness testimony in the US indictment.”

Jacob Kingston first met Erdogan in New York in September 2017 when the Turkish President came to the US to attend the UN General Assembly. This meeting took place “after FBI raided the Kingston group’s properties on Feb. 10, 2016, and the revelations of the fuel tax scam had already made the headlines in Utah,” according to Bozkurt.

“In early November 2017, Jacob flew to Turkey to hold a series of high-level meetings in both Ankara and Istanbul. He tapped Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, the chairman of SBK Holding LLC, as the main conduit in Turkey, while he kept a separate investment and asset management firm, Mega Varlık Yönetim A.Ş., which was set up with equity of $450 million in Turkey,” Bozkurt wrote.

“Termendzhyan also has a company named SBK Holdings USA, which is a sister company to Korkmaz’s SBK Holding LLC in Turkey. Korkmaz was quoted as telling the Turkish press that his partnership with WRE has resulted in an investment valued at $1 billion and thanked Erdoğan for personally facilitating the business deals. According to the press release issued on Sept. 9, 2016, by the Turkish government’s Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT), WRE, the Noil Energy Group and SBK Holding LLC have made significant investments in Turkey and planned to do more. The partnership with SBK Holding began in 2013 with Noil Energy making the first batch of investments in real estate. Construction and real estate businesses comprise the prime source for ill-gotten proceeds for Erdoğan’s massive multi-billion-dollar wealth. The total investment reached $500 million with another half million dollars assigned to a Mergers and Acquisitions fund for operations in Turkey. The trio has made investments in all types of sectors including pharmaceuticals, automotive, chemicals, technology, glass, and food,” according to Bozkurt.

“With Erdoğan’s political backing and cover, SBK Holding has expanded its operations into various areas including finance, energy, real estate, defense, mining, industry, tourism, technology, and logistics. The company is mainly active in the finance industry through investment banking, asset management, and raw materials financing. It also has substantial interests in the energy sector that span both the US and Russian markets. Erdoğan was not bothered at all by the fact that Termendzhyan was already implicated in a major probe that was being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security for money laundering, tax evasion, and stolen oil. Edgar Sargsyan, the ex-president and former legal counsel for SBK Holdings USA, stated in his declaration filed in court on July 14, 2017, that Termendzhyan, a Russian [Armenian], is the head of a criminal organization. It is worth remembering that he was arrested in 1993 for a gas tax scam in the US, where the Russian mafia was known to have been actively involved in similar scams in the ’80s and ’90s. He was also charged with tax fraud and armed assault in the past and was convicted of battery in 2013,” Bozkurt reported.

Interestingly, “Korkmaz appears to be the main conduit linking the Kingstons and Termendzhyan to pro-Erdoğan businessman Ekim Alptekin, whose Dutch shell company Inovo BV hired former national security advisor Mike Flynn’s Flynn Intel Group to run a smear campaign and defame Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a US-based cleric who emerged as the main critic of the Erdoğan regime. Flynn tapped former CIA director James Woolsey to do the work against Gülen in a meeting held with Korkmaz in California in August 2016. Woolsey and his wife had a meeting with both Korkmaz and Alptekin in New York City on Sept. 20, 2016, to discuss the proposal. On Sept. 19, 2016, Flynn met with Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the foreign minister of Turkey, and Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law who is also a minister in his cabinet, to discuss another proposal to kidnap Gülen and whisk him away from US soil to Turkey. Two months later, on Nov. 8, 2016, Flynn published a poorly written, derogatory op-ed on The Hill news website about Gülen, which many suspected was penned by Turkish operatives, not Flynn. Flynn later admitted to making false statements including lying about the fact that Turkish government officials were supervising and directing the work. He also misrepresented his lobbying on behalf of the Erdoğan government and lied about the op-ed he published on The Hill website,” Bozkurt wrote.

Alptekin fled to Turkey after he was interviewed by the Mueller team in May 2017 and dodged the subpoena that was subsequently issued after investigators concluded that he had lied to them. Korkmaz was also ordered to testify before a grand jury in Washington on Sept. 22, 2017, over possible violations of federal criminal laws including the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). He also did not comply with this subpoena. “It was believed that money in the amount of some $450,000 that Alptekin’s Dutch shell company paid to Flynn, in fact, came from Korkmaz. The Utah indictment reveals that Termendzhyan fled to Turkey in August 2017 on the day state search warrants were executed on his home and office,” Bozkurt revealed.

“If there was an independent judiciary in Turkey, this would have been addressed first and foremost by the Turkish criminal justice system, and Erdoğan would have been forced to leave office in disgrace, at the very least. Most likely he and his thugs would have been sentenced to prison for breaking about a dozen Turkish laws. That is no longer possible since the corrupt Turkish president has crippled the judiciary, destroyed the independent media and suspended the rule of law in the aftermath of a major graft investigation in December 2013 that uncovered his corrupt practices involving highly controversial Iranian and Saudi businesspeople. Now we see US judicial action on Erdoğan’s crimes that extended all the way to American soil. This time he won’t have the political clout to cash in to derail or hush up the legal cases that implicate him. He unsuccessfully tried before in the Hakan Atilla case in New York, and he will likely suffer the same fate in the Utah case as well,” Bozkurt concluded.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

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