A revelation by a regime insider has shed light on how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amassed billions of dollars in family wealth during his two decades of rule, marked by endemic corruption within his administration.
Ali Yeşildağ, a longtime member of a gang that helped run corruption schemes on behalf of Erdogan, revealed in a video posted to YouTube on May 5, 2023 that Erdogan, then prime minister, pocketed $1 billion dollars in an airport kickback scheme. call for management tenders in 2007.
The money was given to Erdogan by Turkish businessman İbrahim Çeçen, who fraudulently won the government tender for operating rights to Antalya Airport for his company İçtaş, which is part of İbrahim Çeçen Yatırım Holding (IC Holding), which participated in the tender with its German partner. Fraport SA.
Çelebi Holding, which operated Antalya Airport, Turkey’s second largest, until it was nominated for contract renewal on April 12, 2007, was fraudulently excluded from the tender. tenders by the General Directorate of State Airport Management (DHMİ). Yeşildağ, who was intimately involved in the tender, disclosed previously unknown details about how Çelebi was not allowed to compete in order to award the contract to the İçtaş-Fraport joint venture.
Yeşildağ was hired by Canan Çelebioğlu, the chairman of Çelebi Holding, through a friend named Enis, who promised him $30 million in consulting fees if Yeşildağ could get the contract renewed for another 15 years for the holding company, using its contacts with Erdogan. As a provider of Turkish airport ground services, Çelebi was a reputable company that also operated other airports in Turkey.
Yeşildağ is the younger brother of brothers Hasan and Zeki Yeşildağ, both of whom have worked closely with Erdogan for decades. He said he discovered that the tender was monitored by Ali İhsan Arslan, also known as Mücahit Arslan, a close confidant of Erdogan, and that he told Arslan that he had been hired by Çelebi to obtain the contract and had asked for his help. Arslan explained that his boss, Erdogan, had different plans for the contract to facilitate the receipt of huge sums of money from bribes and asked him to provide inside information from Çelebi Holding during the preparation of the call for tenders.
The double game Yeşildağ had managed to learn that Çelebi planned to offer $4 billion for the contract with the possibility of offering up to $5 billion. Arslan also asked Yeşildağ to find out who Çelebi’s foreign partner was so that he could approach them on Erdogan’s behalf and convince them to stay out of the competition. But Çelebi Holding kept the negotiations with foreign partners secret, even from Yeşildağ, who was hired as a consultant.
To exclude Çelebi from the auction, Yeşildağ proposed to Arslan to remove several documents that had to be submitted in advance by companies in order to participate in the tender. This is exactly what happened when the relevant commission announced that Çelebi’s offer had been excluded from the tender due to lack of proper documentation.
As a result, on April 12, 2007, İçtaş-Fraport won the contract worth 2.37 billion euros ($3.19 billion), while Çelebi was ready to offer 4 billion dollars with the option to go up to 5 billion dollars. According to Yeşildağ, the difference of almost a billion dollars was paid to Erdogan behind the scenes. The government’s revenue loss amounted to almost $2 billion, considering that Çelebi was willing to pay up to $5 billion for the contract after the sealed bids were opened and bidders were invited to increase their offers.
The decision to exclude Çelebi from the tender came as a shock to the holding company, which had already invested significant sums and had been operating the airport for years. Çelebi’s management was convinced that its offer could not be beaten and even prepared a celebration for winning the contract. What they didn’t know was that Yeşildağ was actually working for Erdogan, who decided to award the contract to his friend Çeçen in exchange for a billion-dollar bribe.
Yeşildağ said in his video that the money promised to him by Arslan was never paid and that he was also deceived by his brothers in other contracts. He decided to turn against Erdogan and his brothers and began revealing secret deals made behind closed doors to enrich Erdogan and his entourage.
Çelebi’s lawyers filed a lawsuit challenging the tender, but the lawsuit was rejected under pressure from the government. Additionally, prosecutor Hüseyin Kocabey opened a criminal investigation against Çelebi’s management for alleged fraud, accusing the company of inflating its annual turnover from 98 million to 100 million euros to be able to participate in the call for tenders. The investigation was only aimed at intimidating Çelebi and forcing his leaders to stop pursuing the Antalya Airport tender. Prosecutor Kocabey was rewarded for his performance by the Erdogan government and appointed as a judge to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
DHMİ leader Mehmet Tekin, who chaired the tender commission, was the subject of a criminal complaint filed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party for allegedly rigging the tender of offers. But the Erdogan government shielded him from legal problems and the complaint was dismissed. In the 2011 elections, he ran for a seat in Parliament on the list of the ruling Justice and Development Party, but failed.
Antalya Airport has a capacity of 35 million passengers per year, and the government plans to expand it to 80 million after a record 31.2 million passengers, most of them from foreign flights, transited by the airport last year. Currently, 173 airlines from 52 countries use the airport to fly to and from 213 destinations. İçtaş sold its shares in the joint venture to TAV Airports (TAV Havalimanları) in May 2018 for 360 million euros.
In December 2021, the Erdogan government launched a new tender for the operation and expansion of Antalya Airport, well before the current contract expired. The new 25-year contract was awarded to the TAV-Fraport joint venture for 8.6 billion euros.
According to Yeşildağ, Erdogan accumulated several hundred billion dollars in wealth through these bribes and kickbacks during his two decades of rule. As part of corruption investigations made public in December 2013 by Istanbul prosecutors, investigators uncovered similar bribery schemes involving Erdogan and his entourage. They also discovered that Erdogan had hidden millions in cash in huge safes built in the basement of villas he owned in Istanbul.
In the same investigation, Çeçen was one of the main suspects who was investigated for multiple crimes, including fraudulent business practices in relation to Erdogan. The criminal investigation was derailed by Erdogan after it was made public, and Çeçen and other friends were saved from legal trouble.
Claims about the scale of Erdogan’s fortune are numerous. International hacking group Anonymous posted a tweet on December 29, 2020 claiming that Erdogan had up to $350 billion in ill-gotten gains and mocked the Turkish president by asking which banks he wanted to use to launder them .
The President was reportedly concerned when a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 16, 2019 as part of a proposed sanctions package against Turkey under the title of the “Protection Against conflicts by Turkey”.
The US Senate version of the bill was introduced on October 17, 2019 under the title “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act of 2019”. Both bills required the Director of National Intelligence to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the estimated net worth and known sources of income of Erdogan and his family members.
The relevant portion of the bill reads: “Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the Appropriate congressional committees report on the estimated net worth and known sources of income of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of his family (including spouse, children, parents and siblings), including assets , investments, other business interests and relevant beneficial ownership information. »
Erdogan’s secret accounts in Swiss banks, which are much talked about, had already been reported by the American embassy in Ankara in a cable addressed to Washington. The diplomatic cable was leaked by Wikileaks in November 2010.