(photo credit: REUTERS)
MOSCOW - Russia's defense ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.
Moscow and Ankara have been locked in a war of words since last week when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Russian border, the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO state in half a century.
In a briefing in Moscow, defense ministry officials displayed satellite images which they said showed columns of tanker trucks loading with oil at installations controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into neighboring Turkey.
The officials did not specify what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdogan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.
"Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we've received, the senior political leadership of the country - President Erdogan and his family - are involved in this criminal business," said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.
"Maybe I'm being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one's closest associates."
"In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president's son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son has been appointed energy minister. What a marvelous family business!"
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"The cynicism of the Turkish leadership knows no limits. Look what they're doing. They went into someone else's country, they are robbing it without compunction," Antonov said.
The ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks which were smuggling oil from Islamic State-held areas into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment and training to the militant group.
Officials said that the Russian air force's bombing campaign had made a significant dent in Islamic State's ability to produce, refine and sell oil.
Erdogan last week denied that Turkey procures oil from anything but legitimate sources. He has said Ankara is taking active steps to prevent smuggling of fuel, and he challenged anyone who accused his government of collaborating with Islamic State to prove their allegations.
On Monday, Erdogan said that he would resign
if Russia could prove that Turkey shot down the Russian warplane
near the Syrian border in order to protect its oil trade with Islamic State.
"As soon as such a claim is proved, the nobility of our nation requires [me] to do this," CNN quoted Erdogan as telling reporters at the climate change summit in Paris on Monday.
Erdogan added, however, that should the claims prove to be false, Russian President Vladimir Putin should be the one to step down.
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